Gaza hospital strike upends Biden’s high-stakes trip to Israel

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WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden has postponed his visit to Jordan after a deadly strike on a Gaza hospital and will go only to Israel on his Middle East trip, the White House said on Tuesday.

He made the decision after “consulting” Jordan’s King Abdullah II and “in light of the days of mourning” announced by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who was due at the summit along with Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the White House said in a statement.

“The president sent his deepest condolences for the innocent lives lost in the hospital explosion in Gaza, and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded,” the statement added.

His already fraught trip to the region got more complicated after hundreds of Palestinians were killed in a strike on a Gaza hospital on Tuesday.

Palestinian authorities say Israel’s military was responsible; Israeli authorities denied involvement in the strike, which occurred during a massive Israeli bombardment of the enclave and killed about 500.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas quickly cancelled the planned meeting with Mr Biden after the strike, then Jordan’s King Abdullah cancelled the entire summit that was supposed to bring the US President together with the Egyptian and Palestinian leaders.

Mr Biden is expected to leave Washington within hours for the complex diplomatic mission, aimed at showing support for long-time US ally Israel, calming the region and shoring up humanitarian efforts for Gaza.

What he can accomplish in the wake of the hospital strike and conflicting reports about responsibility for it is now unclear.

“This sort of murky but horrific event makes diplomacy harder and increases escalation risks,” said Richard Gowan, UN director at International Crisis Group.

“Biden’s visit was meant to underline that the US has a grip on the situation. A tragic incident like this shows how hard it is to keep the war in check.”

Mr Biden is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Failure to meet Mr Abbas or any Palestinian official, while meeting Israelis on their soil, may undermine Mr Biden’s diplomatic message and draw critics at home and abroad. The US is leaning heavily on Egypt to help with humanitarian efforts. AFP, REUTERS

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