President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday morning, hours after a blast killed large numbers of Palestinians at a Gaza hospital that he said appeared to be done by “the other team.”
The explosion at the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital on Tuesday evening derailed White House plans for Biden’s emergency diplomatic mission to the Middle East, with Arab leaders calling off their planned summit with him, per Reuters.
In his first public remarks on the hospital bombing, Biden explicitly offered Israel — and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — his support, with wording that labeled Palestinians as others. CNN reported that Biden’s off-the-cuff wording revealed the complex diplomatic balancing act he must navigate.
“I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday. And based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you. But there’s a lot of people out there who’re not sure. So we have to overcome a lot of things,” he said.
Palestinian officials blamed an Israeli air strike for the blast, which they said had killed as many as 500 people. Israel said a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group caused the explosion, which the group denied.
As The New York Times reported, the explosion added even more uncertainty to an already unusual trip by a U.S. president to a war zone. In response to the explosion, Arab leaders canceled meetings with Biden as protests spread across the region. In Jordan, a crowd lit fires outside the Israeli Embassy. In Lebanon, large demonstrations shook Beirut.
What did President Biden say in Israel?
Speaking in Tel Aviv after meeting with Netanyahu, Biden said, “I come to Israel with a single message: You are not alone. As long as the United States stands, and we will stand forever, we’ll not ever let you be alone.”
The Hamas attack on Israel earlier this month unleashed “pure, unadulterated evil” on the world and committed “atrocities that recall the worst ravages of Isis,” he said.
The brutality, he said, would have cut deep anywhere in the world but it “cuts deeper here in Israel,” noting the Oct. 7 attack occurred on a sacred Jewish holiday and became the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.
“It has brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by millennia of antisemitism and the genocide of the Jewish people,” he said. Biden said the world watched then and did nothing. “We will not stand by and do nothing again, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
Hamas attacks have killed 1,400 Israelis and dozens of Americans. Hamas also is holding other Americans, along with many Israelis, hostage. At least 3,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the fighting began, the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said Tuesday.
Biden said the U.S. is working with allies throughout the region “pursuing every avenue” to bring the hostages home. He said he can’t share all the details but that for him there’s no higher priority than the release and safe return of the hostages.
The president vowed to make Israel a safe place again. He said he plans to ask Congress for an unprecedented support package for the country’s defense and to keep the Iron Dome fully supplied.
“My message to any state or any other hostile actor thinking about attacking Israel remains the same as it was a week ago: Don’t, don’t don’t,” Biden said.
What did Biden say about Palestinians?
Biden announced $100 million in U.S. funding for humanitarian assistance for Gaza and the West Bank.
The vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas and it does not represent the Palestinian people, the president said. Palestinians, too, have suffered greatly and have lost innocent lives, he said.
“I was outraged and saddened by the enormous loss of life in the hospital in Gaza. Based on the information we’ve seen today, it appeared it was the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza,” Biden said.
People in Gaza need food, water, medicine and shelter, he said. The president said he asked Israeli leaders Wednesday morning to agree to deliver humanitarian aid to people in Gaza, accompanied by inspections to ensure the assistance goes to civilians, not to Hamas.