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Fury over Gaza hospital blast surges across Middle East

Fury over Gaza hospital blast surges across Middle East

BEIRUT — Israel and its staunch ally the United States were targets of rage, condemnation and protest that surged across the Middle East late Tuesday into Wednesday, blamed by demonstrators and regional governments alike for a deadly blast at a hospital in Gaza that killed hundreds of people.

Dead and wounded Gazans were rushed to al-Shifa Hospital after al-Ahli Hospital was struck on Oct. 17. (Video: AP)

Protesters took to the streets from Morocco to Iran, in angry marches held in front of Israeli or U.S. diplomatic missions or those of other Western allies of Israel, like Britain and France. The explosion at the hospital in Gaza City, which Palestinian officials blamed on an Israeli airstrike, was branded an outrage and a war crime as further protests were called for later Wednesday, including in Yemen and Lebanon. Israel said it had evidence the blast was the result of a misfired rocket launched by a Palestinian militant group.

In the midst of it all, President Biden landed in Israel to show solidarity with its government.

Little attention was paid to Israel’s denial of responsibility in the region, including from powerful governments like Saudi Arabia — which in recent months had been exploring normalized ties with Israel. Riyadh condemned what it said was a “heinous crime committed by the Israeli occupation forces.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government restored relations with Israel recently after a long period of strained ties, tweeted that “hitting a hospital containing women, children and innocent civilians is the latest example of Israel’s attacks devoid of the most basic human values.” Protesters burned Israeli flags in front of the country’s consulate in Istanbul.

Late Tuesday in Beirut, demonstrators marched to the U.S. Embassy, as the army barricaded the site to prevent protesters from reaching the facility. Some arrived before they were prepared and reached the embassy gate. Others hit the barricade with their fists in an attempt to tear it down.

One man climbed atop the fence and planted a Palestinian flag, to thundering applause. Soldiers and police officers tried to disperse the protesters with water cannons and tear gas. After midnight, demonstrators set fire to a small building near the embassy.

“What happened today was a crime against humanity; it’s a war crime,” said Ali Abdater, a protester. “It’s not just about the hospital, it’s the whole damn thing,” he added, referring to the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. “It’s been happening for decades.”

But the bombing of a hospital “has to be turning point,” he said, noting the spreading protests in Jordan and elsewhere. “I hope this expands everywhere.”

The U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for Lebanon on Tuesday to the most severe level, warning Americans not to visit the country and authorizing the departure of family members of U.S. personnel.

In Egypt, a small group of leftist and liberal political figures chanted outside the U.S. Embassy, “Down with Israel. Down with the American administration,” a rare display in a country where protests are strictly banned. In the Tunisian capital, demonstrators demanded the expulsion of the ambassador from France, the former colonial power in the country.

Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Tehran and lit tea candles to remember those killed at the hospital. Later, protesters targeted the embassies of France and Britain — major Israeli allies that have supported Israel’s military response to attacks by Hamas.

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