Southeast Asian nations call for ceasefire in Gaza after hospital bombing

BenarNews staff
Southeast Asian nations call for ceasefire in Gaza after hospital bombing Palestinians carry belongings as they leave the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City following an airstrike, Oct. 18, 2023.
Abed Khaled/AP

Updated at 11:56 a.m. EDT on 2023-10-19

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on Wednesday called for an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Palestinian territories after an airstrike killed hundreds of civilians at a hospital in the Gaza Strip.

The bombing on Tuesday night killed at least 500 people, most of them patients who included women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. 

“Indonesia strongly condemns Israel’s attack on Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza,” the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said on its X, formerly Twitter, social media account. “The attack clearly violates international humanitarian law.”

Speaking to reporters from Jeddah, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said President Joko Widodo had ordered her to attend an emergency meeting in Saudi Arabia of foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to discuss the war in Israel and Gaza. 

“The message that Indonesia continues to convey is very clear: stop escalation, focus on humanitarian issues, and resolve root problems according to international parameters that have been agreed upon,” Retno told reporters via an online briefing, according to a transcript. 

“OIC must mobilize all efforts to urge a ceasefire as soon as possible.” 

The bombing of the hospital in Gaza occurred 11 days after Hamas militants launched a wave of attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

Since then, Israel responded with retaliatory strikes, which has led to deaths or injuries on both sides.

Israel denied any responsibility for the airstrike and said it was caused by a failed rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a paramilitary movement, according to international news agencies. But the Islamic Jihad denied the claim and said the strike was beyond its capabilities.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center, left) hugs U.S. President Joe Biden after the American leader arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. [Evan Vucci/AP]

Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the foreign ministry spokesman for Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, dismissed Israel’s denial. 

“This is our conclusion based on information from sources that we deem credible, at least more credible than the government that has been occupying Palestine for seven decades and never fulfilled its international obligations,” Lalu told BenarNews.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said “recent developments regarding the Israeli attacks are quite extreme,” adding the ongoing fighting has reached “an insane and inhumane level.”

“Regardless of who is accused, the impact of the attacks and the war is evident, so it is better to stop. We need to allow time to ease the situation and halt this, as continuing it results in casualties, including women, children, and patients,” he said after an event in Putrajaya.

“What is most regrettable is that Western countries, which speak about human rights, seem to differentiate between people, with some considered first-class and others as subordinates.”

Meanwhile, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing shock and sadness while calling for an end to the violence in Gaza and Israel. It also announced that 30 Thais had been killed in the region, one more than previous reporting.

“In expressing our condolences to all the victims and their bereaved families, Thailand strongly and urgently appeals to all sides concerned to work toward an immediate cessation to the vicious cycle of violence and hostilities. Moreover, Thailand calls for full respect for the protection of civilians, hospital and medical staff under international humanitarian law,” it said.

The OIC, the body that regroups Muslim-majority countries from across the world, issued a statement condemning “blatant targeting by Israel’s brutal occupation forces of Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza Strip,” saying the Israeli military bore full responsibility for civilians in the Gaza Strip.

It called on “the international community to act swiftly and to hold the Israeli occupation accountable for these heinous war crimes against the Palestinian people and humanity at large, and calls for immediate intervention to halt this massacre.” 

Biden in Israel

U.S. President Joe Biden, who arrived in Israel on Wednesday, said the strike at the Gaza hospital seemed to be the work of Israel’s enemies, Reuters news agency reported.

“I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion of the hospital in Gaza yesterday, and based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the news agency.

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Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (center), joined by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, chairs an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s executive committee in Jeddah about the war in the Gaza Strip, Oct. 18, 2023. [Amer Hilabi/AFP]

In Jeddah, meanwhile, the 57-member state OIC also called on the world “to quickly provide humanitarian, medical and relief aid, water and electricity, and to open humanitarian corridors immediately in order to safely deliver urgent aid to the Gaza Strip, including through the United Nations institutions particularly the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).”

Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA commissioner-general, issued a statement to the OIC noting that his organization had lost 14 staff members since the original attack. He asked the ministers to firmly support aid to the region.

“Not one shipment of aid has been allowed into the Gaza Strip since the start of this conflict due to the full siege imposed. People are forced to drink water that is not suitable for consumption, as clean potable water is simply not available. Stocks of food, hygiene material and medicine are rapidly dwindling. We are on the brink of a major health and sanitation crisis,” he said. 

“UNRWA, the largest aid agency in the Gaza Strip, finds itself unable to protect and assist civilians as they face the most tragic and dangerous escalation,” Lazzarini said. “The most urgent goals that we must all work toward are to ensure that civilians, including aid workers, are protected, humanitarian access is granted, and that UNRWA has the resources it needs to respond to an unprecedented humanitarian and human tragedy unfolding as the world watches.”

Biden said Netanyahu had agreed to allow aid into the Gaza Strip from Egypt with the understanding that it would be subject to inspections and be delivered to civilians and not militants, the Associated Press reported.

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Members of the activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabay stage a protest at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City, Metro Manila, to condemn the bombing of a hospital in Gaza that left hundreds of people dead, Oct. 18, 2023. [Gerard Carreon/BenarNews]

Elsewhere, the Philippine government announced it had tightened security across the country for possible spillover from the conflict, the nation’s defense chief said Wednesday.

The order came a day after the National Security Council said the threat of violence was real, citing the capture of a Hamas militant who had tried to infiltrate the country in 2018 but was captured and deported. Muslim militant groups in the volatile southern Philippines are known to have links with their foreign counterparts, including Hamas and the Islamic State. 

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said while he has not yet seen any early indication of that happening, he said he has asked military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner to “increase awareness on the ground” particularly in the volatile south. 

“I have not seen so far, but maybe that (NSC statement) serves as a warning that there was an attempt before and there may be a spill because, naturally, as they (Hamas) are driven away from their strongholds, they’re trying to seek safe haven elsewhere,” Teodoro told reporters. 

This story was written by John Bechtel in Washington with contributions from Tria Dianti in Jakarta, Gerard Carreon in Manila, Roel Pareño in Zamboanga, Philippines, and Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur. It has been updated to include a call by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi for a ceasefire in the Hamas-Israel war and a photo from a pro-Palestinian rally in Metro Manila.


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