World leaders issued statements of condemnation and condolence on Tuesday after an explosion killed hundreds at a hospital in Gaza City, a staggering loss of civilian life in Israel’s 10-day-old war with Hamas that rapidly became enmeshed in competing assertions of blame.
Virtually all stressed the horrific nature of the devastation. But governments across the Middle East took up the Gazan health authorities’ claim of an Israeli airstrike, rejecting the Israeli military’s later assertion that a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad was to blame.
Some of those governments, including that of Iran, said the United States and other countries supporting Israel were also to blame. “The U.S. is responsible for the recent crimes,” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said bluntly in a speech on Tuesday.
The catastrophe, at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, came hours before President Biden boarded Air Force One for Israel, and it threatened to draw the United States further into a conflict it has sought with increasing urgency to keep from expanding into a regional war.
Mr. Biden offered his condolences while en route to Israel. “I am outraged and deeply saddened by the explosion at the Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, and the terrible loss of life that resulted,” he said in a statement in the evening, shortly after taking off from Joint Base Andrews.
He also said he had spoken with leaders in the region and directed his national security team to continue gathering information on “exactly” what had happened. “The United States stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict and we mourn the patients, medical staff and other innocents killed or wounded in this tragedy,” he said.
After the blast, Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia that dominates the south of Lebanon, called for protests on Wednesday in the country. “Let tomorrow, Wednesday, be a day of rage against the enemy,” Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, said in a statement.
The government in Beirut said that schools and universities across Lebanon would be closed on Wednesday.
The catastrophe also drew heated reactions from Egypt and Jordan, Arab governments that made peace with Israel decades ago, as well as from others with whom Israel’s relations were just starting to warm, including Saudi Arabia.
King Abdullah II of Jordan called the explosion “a heinous war crime that cannot be ignored” and declared a three-day mourning period in his country for those killed. The Jordanian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said that countries that backed Israel were to blame for the “horrific crime.”
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said he was returning from Jordan to the West Bank on Tuesday, and Jordan canceled a planned meeting of regional leaders at which Mr. Biden had been set to meet with Mr. Abbas. Mr. Biden is now skipping the stop in Jordan.
The Saudi government said in a statement on Tuesday night that Israel was responsible for the deaths at the hospital in “a flagrant violation of all international laws and norms,” an accusation repeated by many Arab governments. Among them was Egypt, which issued a statement demanding “that Israel immediately cease its collective punishment policies against the people of the Gaza Strip.”
Allies of Israel responded with expressions of horror over the toll on civilians, and less focus on the source of the carnage.
In a statement, James Cleverly, Britain’s foreign secretary, called the explosion “a devastating loss of human life” and said “the protection of civilian life must come first.”
“The U.K. will work with our allies to find out what has happened and protect innocent civilians in Gaza,” he said.
And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoon: “The news coming out of Gaza is horrific and absolutely unacceptable,” adding, “International law needs to be respected in this and in all cases.”
Anushka Patil, Michael D. Shear, Farnaz Fassihi, Vivian Nereim, Eric Schmitt, Yonette Joseph, Megan Specia and Ephrat Livni contributed reporting.