Israelis have categorically denied it was behind Gaza hospital blast: White House

Washington, Oct 18 (IANS): The White House has said that the Israelis have "categorically denied" that they were behind the massive explosion at a hospital in Gaza that killed hundred of people.

Speaking to reporters on board the Air Force One while en route to Tel Aviv, White House National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby on Tuesday said that President Joe Biden, who was outraged and saddened over the horrific loss of life in Tuesday's blast, has "directed the national security team to gather as much information and context as possible so that we can learn more about how this happened".

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital was sheltering thousands of displaced people when it was bombed on Tuesday, adding that many victims were still under the rubble.

While the Hamas claimed that over 500 people were killed in the blast, the Ministry said that 200 to 300 lives were lost as a result.

Asked if the US was giving Israel the “benefit of the doubt,” Kirbysaid: "I think we certainly recognise that they (Israel) feel very strongly that this (hospital blast) was not caused by them."

Regarding the cancellation of Biden’s trip to Amman, Kirby said it was a “mutual decision” between Jordanian and US officials.

Biden was set to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others in Jordan, but Abbas canceled his meeting with Biden earlier Tuesday.

“The decision not to go to Amman was made in a mutual way when the President spoke to the king earlier this afternoon,” Kirby said, referring to Biden’s call with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

“They both agreed that now was not the time to try to throw this meeting on, particularly with President Abbas, making it very clear – understandably so – that he wanted to return home for three days of mourning.”

Asked why the President did not delay his visit until after the three-day mourning period, Kirby said there was still a “pretty robust agenda” for Biden on the ground in Israel.

“He wants to have these discussions directly with Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and the War Cabinet."

“He's looking forward to having an opportunity to thank the first responders, he obviously feels it's important, as is his normal desire, to talk to family members who are suffering and anxious and worried and grieving.

“Even though the Amman portion isn't going to happen — again for perfectly understandable reasons — that doesn't negate the reason for going,” he added.

Shortly after his arrival in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Biden will have a "small restricted bilateral meeting" with Netanyahu, following which the President will meet the Israeli War Cabinet, Kirby announced.

Biden will also meet Israeli first responders and families "of those who have lost loved ones in Israel and some who still don’t know the fate of their loved ones", he added.

Later in the day, Biden will speak with his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog.



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