Anti-Israel protests flared across the Middle East and North Africa on Tuesday as the leaders of Arab countries condemned Israel over a deadly blast believed to have killed hundreds of people sheltering at a hospital in Gaza City.
Palestinian officials quickly blamed Israel for the explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital but the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) rejected the allegation, accusing Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants of conducting a “failed rocket launch” and saying the lack of structural damage at the facility rules out the possibility of an airstrike.
Islamic Jihad described Israeli accusations as “false and baseless” and claimed that it does not use public facilities such as hospitals for military purposes, according to a written statement published Wednesday.
CNN cannot independently confirm the cause of the blast.
Several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq issued statements condemning Israel and accusing its military of bombing the hospital.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters shouting anti-Israel slogans gathered in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, and Tunisia. Protests also rocked the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
The blast at the hospital fueled fury across the region over the bloodshed in Gaza, a coastal enclave home to 2.2 million people that has been under siege by Israel for more than a week in retaliation for a large-scale terror attack carried out by Hamas in Israel on October 7.
On Tuesday night, hundreds of protesters gathered near the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan. One group made an attempt to “reach it,” but a security source told CNN that security forces dealt with them and pushed them away. Jordanian security forces also used tear gas to disperse the protesters, according to two activists and videos posted to social media.
In Lebanon, hundreds of protesters gathered in the square that leads to the US embassy north of Beirut on Tuesday and tried to break through security barriers, according to a CNN team there. The “chaotic” scenes had calmed by the early hours of Wednesday, according to CNN’s Ben Wedeman. Earlier, the US State Department issued a warning Tuesday asking American citizens not to travel to Lebanon.
Protesters also chanted anti-Israel slogans in Baghdad, Iraq. Security officials in Baghdad told CNN that dozens of protesters attempted to cross a bridge that leads to the Green Zone – an area that houses Iraqi government offices and several embassies, including the US embassy – but security forces prevented them from doing so.
In Iran, rallies also took place outside the French and British embassies in Tehran, the country’s capital. Demonstrators chanted “death to France, England, America, and the Zionists,” according to a video published by Iran state-run RNA news on Wednesday morning. Rallies also took place in other cities, including Esfahan and Qom.
Hundreds of people rallied in several areas in Tunis, Tunisia, state-run TAP news agency reported. TAP said “mass protests were held on Tuesday night,” in several areas “in solidarity with the Palestinian people” and against Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
In Istanbul, Turkish security forces used water cannon and pepper spray to disperse protesters who managed to force their way into a compound where the Israeli consulate is located.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called on “all humanity to take action to stop this unprecedented brutality in Gaza,” in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, adding that the attack on the hospital was “the latest example of Israel’s attacks devoid of the most basic human values.”
The blast resulted in Jordan canceling a planned Wednesday summit between US President Joe Biden and the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, a government body with limited self-rule in the West Bank.
Jordan’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Ayman Safadi, posted on X, “How many innocent Palestinians must die before Israel stops its war on Gaza?”
Safadi called for peace and said international law “can’t be selective,” and that the “World must speak clearly, act promptly against this war.”
While the IDF has said it does not target hospitals, the UN and Doctors Without Borders say Israeli airstrikes have struck medical facilities, including hospitals and ambulances.
Hospitals were already struggling to tend to the wounded across the territory, operating with shortages of electricity and water.
The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem which oversees and funds the Al Ahli Baptist Hospital condemned the explosion, according to a statement from the church released on Tuesday.
“Gaza remains bereft of safe havens,” the diocese said, calling the blast a crime against humanity.
“Hospitals, by the tenets of international humanitarian law, are sanctuaries, yet this assault has transgressed those sacred boundaries,” the statement reads.
Early Wednesday, the IDF presented imagery which it asserts shows that the destruction of the Al-Ahli Baptist hospital could not have been the result of an airstrike.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman in Beirut, Aqeel Najim in Baghdad, Adam Pourahmadi and Kareem Khadder contributed reporting.