Palestinians carry belongings as they leave Al Ahli hospital, which they were using as a shelter, in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. / Photo: AP

As news emerged that at least 500 victims lost their lives when an Israeli airstrike hit the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, rage and condemnation followed from across the world.

Social media footage showed scores of dead bodies at the hospital where thousands of Palestinians were located. Ever since, Israel has turned to denial, shifting blame to either Hamas or the Islamic Jihad resistance group.

Speaking to TRT World, experts have condemned the airstrike that has led to a widespread loss of life.

“Hospitals are specifically protected from attack under international humanitarian law,” says Alka Pradhan, an international criminal lawyer, providing comments in the capacity as a humanitarian law expert that do not reflect the views of the US’ Department of Defense.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres quickly criticised the deadly attack, insisting he is “horrified by the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in a strike on a hospital in Gaza today, which I strongly condemn,"

"My heart is with the families of the victims. Hospitals and medical personnel are protected under international humanitarian law," Guterres said on X.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also denounced the bombing on the same night.

"Striking a hospital where there are women, children, and innocent civilians is the latest example of Israel's attacks devoid of fundamental human values, " wrote Erdogan on X.

Türkiye’s leader also called on "all humanity to take action to stop Israel's unprecedented brutality in Gaza."

The UN Security Council is set to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday after the deadly bombing, with Brazil's draft resolution calling for 'humanitarian pause' in Gaza to be put to a vote.

Pradhan says the only way to justify an attack on a hospital is if it is clear that a hospital, school or a civilian building is used to launch attacks on an enemy.

“Even then, an attack on a hospital would have to be for critical military necessity, and also consider the potential number of civilian casualties. If the number of civilian casualties drastically outweighs the potential military gain, it is a war crime,” adds Pradhan.

‘War Crime’

“With regards to the attack on the Al Ahli hospital, it seems clear that the number of civilian casualties is absolutely massive, and there appears to be no evidence to support the post-hoc claim that the hospital was being used by militants. On its face, this looks like a horrific war crime,” Pradhan tells TRT World in a written statement.

The deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructures is a war crime as hospitals and medical personnel enjoy a special level of protection according to International Humanitarian Law, says Fernando Travesi, the Executive Director at the International Center for Transitional Justice.

“Therefore, attacking and targeting them is a war crime,” he says, while underscoring “civilians should be respected and protected at all times.”

Israel has called on Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate the north amid heightened tensions as the impoverished enclave has been hit by a barrage of airstrikes in retribution for Hamas deadly attack on Israel October 7 while Gaza has faced a siege on food, water, fuel and electricity.

“They (civilians) should NEVER be the target of a military operation,” Travesi tells TRT World in a written statement.

He insists there should be accountability for such war crimes that requires collective efforts at different levels of society and political will.

"Decades of impunity"

“This new cycle of horrific violence is, in part and in my view, the results of decades of impunity for previous crimes and atrocities committed in this unresolved conflict. Any accountability effort starts by gathering evidence and collecting and preserving documentation. There are ongoing efforts doing so,” adds Travesi, saying in the future it could be conducted by an independent commission of experts.

Israeli strikes on Gaza had killed at least 3,000 people and wounded 9,700, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, and nearly two-thirds of those killed were children.

"More than 1,000 children have reportedly been killed in 11 days of airstrikes on Gaza – one child every 15 minutes – with children making up a third of total fatalities in Gaza," says UK-based charity Save the Children who have called for an "immediate ceasefire."

“The International Criminal Court has an open investigation for crimes committed in Palestine (it was open in 2021 although has not delivered major results as of yet),” Travesi says, explaining that it would be a matter within its jurisdiction.

Pradhan believes it remains to be seen whether international observers will be able to investigate in Gaza anytime soon, as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are among the victims of the violence.

“However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has had an open investigation into crimes in Palestine and Israel for a long time," says Pradhan.

"Evidence in the form of photographs and footage should be sent to the Prosecutor’s office, and should be subjected to forensic analysis. Given the brutality of the hospital attack, an in-depth investigation is crucial.“

TRT World