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Tensions rise over an explosion at a Gaza hospital that killed 500 people

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israeli and Palestinian authorities are trading blame over just who is responsible for the strike that killed hundreds at a hospital in Gaza.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

That's right. Doctors there tell NPR they are still uncovering more bodies this morning. The incident has also led to massive protests across much of the Arab world.

MARTIN: Joining us now with the latest is NPR's Ruth Sherlock from Tel Aviv. And I'm going to let you know that from what I understand, some of the details will be very disturbing for some to hear. Ruth, that being said, what are you hearing about this attack?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Good morning. Well, yeah, this was a massive explosion at the Baptist Al-Ahli Hospital. It's a Christian hospital and one of the oldest in Gaza. I reached Dr. Fadel Naim. So he's the orthopedic - the head of the orthopedic unit there. And he's still there because he says that there are injured patients that still need to be evacuated. He was in the operating room when he heard this huge explosion, and people flooded in, wounded. It's a bad phone line, but he tells me he ran outside and found the area full of injured and dead.

FADEL NAIM: They're injured and dead people. We try to help what we can - who we can help. Some of them died in our hands.

SHERLOCK: He said some people died in his hands. Many had lost limbs, and the doctors were using whatever they had on them - bandages, their clothes - to try to stop the bleeding. And like you said, you know, we don't know the full death toll. But it seems in the many hundreds. Dr. Naim says they're still finding new dead, including bodies flung in the force of the blast onto the roof of the hospital.

NAIM: Minutes ago, we found one baby on the roof of the hospital.

SHERLOCK: A baby?

NAIM: Yeah. Many babies died yesterday. Many dead.

SHERLOCK: So Naim says the strike on the hospital hit this inner courtyard that had become an area that was also housing hundreds of people that have been displaced by the wider fighting in Gaza. It was full of families, he said, many children. He says, with this being a hospital, and a Christian one at that, people believed that it was maybe the safest place in Gaza.

MARTIN: Ruth, what do we know about just who is responsible for this?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, like you said, both sides are trading blame. Israel says it was the result of a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Israeli Defense Forces are putting out some footage and a recording they claim is a conversation between a Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad official allegedly talking about the misfire. But I should say, you know, really clearly NPR cannot independently verify any of this. We do know from past wars that there have been Palestinian rockets that have fallen short inside Gaza. But at the very same time, you know, this hospital said just a few days ago that it was hit by Israeli rocket fire just a few days ago. And this is all happening amid intense fighting. You know, there's 3,000 Palestinian people killed, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 1,000 of those kids. Ten thousand people have been wounded.

MARTIN: So, Ruth, I mean, - and, of course, you've been reporting on - and you, among others, have been reporting on just the humanitarian situation there before this attack. So I can only imagine that this terrible incident is just adding even more pressure to the humanitarian needs there.

SHERLOCK: Right. One of the head of the main hospital says that, you know, Al-Shifa says they're going to run out of fuel today. Taps are also running dry in Gaza because there's no fuel for desalination plants. People are struggling to find drinking water. Much of the population is fleeing south, but with nowhere to go. The border with Egypt is still closed. And Gazans I speak with say at this point, nowhere feels safe.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ruth Sherlock. Ruth, thank you so much.

SHERLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.