By Yasmine Salam, Lauren Dunn and Jake Lubbehusen
A blast at al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, a Christian-run medical complex in central Gaza City, killed at least 200 to 300 people Tuesday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
The ministry’s spokesman, Ashraf Al Qudra, estimated that at least 200 others were injured.
Officials in Gaza and in Israel blamed each other for the carnage.
Al Qudra said the Israel Defense Forces had targeted the hospital for bombing. Hamas also blamed Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied that, saying, “It was barbaric terrorists in Gaza that attacked the hospital in Gaza, and not the IDF.”
President Joe Biden said in a statement that he was “outraged and deeply saddened by the explosion” and that he had “directed my national security team to continue gathering information about exactly what happened.” Speaking before a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, Biden said that “based on what I’ve seen it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.” He added: “But there’s a lot of people out there who are not sure.”
Photos of the hospital showed fire engulfing the halls, shattered glass and body parts scattered across the wreckage. Videos posted to a Palestinian paramedic’s Instagram stories show first responders arriving at the hospital and taking bloodied bodies out.
“There was an almighty missile shriek and then a big thud,” Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah told NBC News. He said the operating room ceiling collapsed and he stumbled toward a side entrance, where he saw “people carrying wounded and walking wounded with blood streaming down covered in dust.” Then he went to the hospital’s courtyard, which he said was on fire and “filled with bodies and bits of bodies.”
Afterward, Abu-Sittah said, he went to help in the emergency room, where he put a tourniquet on and resuscitated a man whose leg had been blown off and another who had shrapnel in his neck.
“This is absolute carnage,” he said, adding that doctors “can’t stop” because of the urgency of the situation.
If the hospital bombing death toll of 200 to 300 is confirmed, it would be the deadliest incident inside Gaza since Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
Leonard Rubenstein, a John Hopkins University public health professor who has studied violence against medical facilities during wartime for 25 years, said the estimated death toll of at least 200 is the highest for a single incident involving a hospital that he is aware of.
He added that “the number of attacks or instances of violence on health care facilities in this conflict are very significant.”
Doctors Without Borders said on X that it was “horrified.”
“This is a massacre. It is absolutely unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
The World Health Organization said it “strongly condemns the attack.”
“The hospital was operational, with patients, health and care givers, and internally displaced people sheltering there. Early reports indicate hundreds of fatalities and injuries,” it said in a statement.
The WHO also said Israel’s orders to evacuate the north side of the Gaza Strip last week — the equivalent of 1.1 million people — “has been impossible to carry out” for al-Ahli and other hospitals.
Before the hospital explosion, the estimated death toll in Gaza was more than 3,000, with more than 12,500 people estimated to be injured.
Israel’s ordered an evacuation as it appeared ready to launch a ground invasion into Gaza, bringing scores of military equipment to the border after Hamas terrorists killed 1,400 people and wounded 4,000 more in kibbutzim, at a musical festival and in streets across the south.
The situation for civilians in Gaza has grown increasingly dire as Israel continues its airstrikes and imposes a blockade of water, food, fuel, medical supplies and electricity. Those resources are now in short supply, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled south.
The bombing is the latest hit to the medical community in Gaza, which is already on the brink of collapse. Hospitals have provided refuge for people trying to escape the bombardment of the besieged enclave since last week.
Abu-Sittah, who witnessed the attack, said the pressure on the medical community is “on a scale that has never been seen before.” He said the number wounded in Gaza has far outnumbered the 2,500 beds that hospitals had before the war.
“At this point not only are there not enough people, there are not enough beds in the hospitals, there are not enough ventilators, there is not enough operating room capacity,” he said.
Dr. Ahmad Moghrabi, the head of plastic surgery at Gaza’s Nasser Hospital, likened the medical situation in Gaza to a “disaster” and said most of his patients are women and children.
“It’s like earthquake, everybody under attack,” he said in a video diary sent to NBC News on Tuesday, in which he sobs at his desk. “Even my child — 3 years old — she got injured. Really, it’s pitiful — my heart. Really, I’m speaking to you, I want to cry.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared “three days of general mourning” for the victims, according to the Palestinian news agency. Jordan has made similar calls.
CORRECTION (Oct. 18,2023 2:35 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the name of a John Hopkins University public health professor. He is Leonard Rubenstein, not Rubinstein.
Yasmine Salam is an associate producer with the NBC News Investigative Unit. Previously she worked in the London Bureau, covering international stories.
Lauren Dunn is the executive editor of the NBC News Medical Unit.