Officials linked to Hamas claimed that an Israeli airstrike killed hundreds of people at a Palestinian hospital on Tuesday, while the Israeli government said a terrorist group was responsible for the destruction.

News reports on Tuesday said Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist hospital had been hit with a strike that killed as many as 500. The Associated Press cited the “Health Ministry run by Hamas” for that figure.

Hamas claimed the Tuesday attack was “a horrific massacre” carried out by Israel. Unverified videos circulated on social media on Tuesday purportedly showing the strike.

Israel, meanwhile, responded on its official state Twitter account by blaming regional Palestinian militants for the strike.

“From the analysis of the operational systems of the IDF, an enemy rocket barrage was carried out towards Israel, which passed through the vicinity of the hospital when it was hit,” Israel said.

“According to intelligence information, from several sources we have, the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization is responsible for the failed shooting that hit the hospital,” the Twitter account said.

The actual origin of the missile strike was unclear as of late Tuesday afternoon. The Palestinians “are falsely claiming Israel targeted a hospital in the Gaza Strip,” Israel said in a followup tweet.

Reports indicated the death toll in Israel on Tuesday stood at around 1,400, while Gaza had suffered approximately 3,000 casualties since the war began earlier this month.

Safe haven becomes center of conflict 

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Michael La Civita, spokesman for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told CNA that his organization and other Church-affiliated groups had long supported the hospital. 

La Civita was filled with emotion as he acknowledged the mounting death toll from the attack. 

“Initially, one of our employees reported that 200 people had been killed, including 30 children. But now, there are reports that 500 [people] have died," he said. 

La Civita noted that the hospital, along with other local Christian institutions, had long provided shelter for vulnerable citizens during previous times of crisis. “The hospital had a generator so people could go to the facility when electricity was scarce.” 

Now, when that need is greatest, the hospital itself has become a scene of tragedy and death. 

Bombing raises stakes for Biden visit 

The hospital bombing came on the eve of President Joe Biden’s high-stakes trip to Israel on Wednesday. 

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As both Israel and Hamas contended that their adversary was to blame for the hospital bombing, Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, expressed hope that President Biden’s visit would pave the way for his agency to transport emergency relief supplies to Gaza. The hope, said Callahan, is that the president can broker a deal to create a “humanitarian corridor” to bring vital emergency supplies — including “fuel for hospital generators, water, food and medicines” and “human assistance” — into Gaza. 

“The supplies are desperately needed,” said Callahan, but CRS and other international aid groups have not been able to transport them into Gaza. 

At present, many aid groups have warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Local hospitals are overwhelmed by the thousands of civilians who have sought shelter, even as the injured wait for days to receive emergency care. 

“A humanitarian corridor would also make it possible for Gaza civilians to depart the area and find safety before Israel launches its ground war and the conflict rapidly escalates,” he said. 

“The death toll from the hospital bombing,” he said, injects even more urgency into efforts to “suspend the bombing and let civilians get to a safe place.” 

National Catholic Register Senior Editor Joan Frawley Desmond contributed to this story.