Update, Oct. 30, 2023: U.S. intelligence officials and others who have studied video footage now say the damage to Al-Ahli Hospital was most likely caused by a failed rocket launch from Hamas or a terrorist group supporting Hamas. A U.S. intelligence official has told media outlets that there was only “light structural damage” to the hospital. Intelligence officials say they do not have an estimate of the casualties caused by the blast.
A missile explosion at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza is reminding Southern Baptists of their historic work in the Middle East and the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding as war continues to rage.
Numerous media outlets are reporting that at least 500 people died in the Oct. 17 blast, though exact numbers are in dispute. It is unclear who was responsible for the explosion, but news reports say thousands of displaced people were taking shelter in the facility, and a number of victims likely remain buried in the rubble. This was the second time in four days the hospital has been hit. On Oct. 14, its Diagnostic Cancer Treatment Center was hit by an Israeli rocket, and four staff members were injured, according to a statement from hospital officials.
Al-Ahli was once managed by Southern Baptist Convention missionaries. A news report from Baptist News Global noted the hospital has been in operation since 1882 and was founded by the Church Mission Society of the Church of England. From 1954 to 1982, it was managed by missionaries affiliated with the SBC Foreign Mission Board, now known as the International Mission Board. Since 1980, the hospital has been run by the Episcopal Church.
It is one of 22 hospitals in northern Gaza struggling to respond to the volatile situation, according to a press release issued Oct. 16 by the Episcopal News Service. Late on Oct. 12, Israel’s military ordered the evacuation of the northern end of the territory, including Gaza City, as a precursor to sending in soldiers. However, hospitals have asked to be allowed to remain open.
More than 2 million people live in Gaza, one of the most densely population places in the world. Israel has shut off supplies of food, water and power to Gaza’s main electrical grid. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin said patients are in “grave danger” because they cannot be safely evacuated and medical supplies are running low.