October 17, 2023 - Israel-Hamas war news

By Tara Subramaniam, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Rosa Rahimi, Dakin Andone, Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond, Tori Powell and Steve Almasy, CNN

Updated 1:06 a.m. ET, October 18, 2023
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11:36 p.m. ET, October 17, 2023

Aftermath of Gaza hospital blast is "unparalleled and indescribable," Palestinian Ministry of Health says

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq

People are assisted at Shifa Hospital after a blast at Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza on Tuesday.
People are assisted at Shifa Hospital after a blast at Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza on Tuesday. Mohammed Al-Masri/Reuters

The situation following a deadly blast at a hospital in Gaza is "unparalleled and indescribable," said Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Al-Qudra said in a statement on Wednesday (local time) that the blast killed hundreds of people "and ambulance crews are still removing body parts as most of the victims are children and women."

He noted that the number of victims and their injuries "exceeded the capabilities of medical teams and ambulances."

Al-Qudra added: "Doctors were performing surgeries on the ground and in the corridors, some of them without anesthesia and a large number of injured people are still waiting for operations, and the medical teams are trying to save their lives in intensive care."

More context: Hundreds of people are believed to be dead following a strike on a hospital in Gaza. Palestinian officials blamed ongoing Israeli airstrikes for the lethal incident, while a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces said a Palestinian Islamic Jihad group is responsible for a “failed rocket launch” that hit the hospital.

11:27 p.m. ET, October 17, 2023

Palestinian ambassador to UN accuses Israel of being behind Gaza hospital blast

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq

Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Observer to the United Nations, accused Israel of carrying out the deadly blast at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday.

He said Israeli officials were being dishonest in blaming Palestinian Islamic Jihad for the blast. 

“Now they change the story to try to blame the Palestinians. It is a lie,” Mansour said during a news conference at the UN headquarters.

The Israel Defense Forces said earlier on Tuesday that their intelligence shows a “failed rocket launch” by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group was responsible for the explosion that left hundreds dead.

1:06 a.m. ET, October 18, 2023

Church that funds Gaza hospital condemns blast, says Gaza deprived of safe havens  

From CNN’s Kareem Khadder

The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem condemned the deadly explosion that took place at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza Tuesday, according to a statement.

The diocese oversees the board and administration for the hospital and exclusively funds the facility through the Anglican Church via international donations.

The diocese said they were observing a global day of fasting and prayers to end the conflict that “was marred by a brutal attack" on the hospital, the statement read. 

The diocese announced a day of mourning in all of its churches and institutions. 

“Gaza remains bereft of safe havens,” the diocese said, and called the blast a crime against humanity in their statement. 

“Hospitals, by the tenets of international humanitarian law, are sanctuaries, yet this assault has transgressed those sacred boundaries,” the statement read. 

The diocese also said “the devastation witnessed, coupled with the sacrilegious targeting of the church, strikes at the very core of human decency," adding that “we assert unequivocally that this is deserving international condemnation and retribution.” 

This post has been updated with additional information.

11:42 p.m. ET, October 17, 2023

US State Department warns Americans not to travel to Lebanon

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The Palestinian flag and the flag of Hezbollah are seen as UN peacekeepers patrol the border area between Lebanon and Israel on October 13.
The Palestinian flag and the flag of Hezbollah are seen as UN peacekeepers patrol the border area between Lebanon and Israel on October 13. Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

The US State Department issued a travel advisory Tuesday warning Americans not to travel to Lebanon.

The department will allow family members and some non-emergency US government personnel from the embassy in Beirut to voluntarily depart the country “due to the unpredictable security situation.”

The travel advisory level for Lebanon was raised to Level 4: Do Not Travel on Tuesday “due to the unpredictable security situation related to rocket, missile, and artillery exchanges between Israel and Hizballah or other armed militant factions,” according to an updated advisory.

The advisory made note of the fact that “large demonstrations have erupted in the wake of recent violence in Israel and Gaza.”

“U.S. citizens should avoid demonstrations and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings or protests as some of these have turned violent,” the advisory read. “Protesters have blocked major roads, including thoroughfares between downtown Beirut and the area where the U.S. Embassy is located, and between Beirut and Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport.”

The advisory warned that “U.S. citizens who choose to travel to Lebanon should be aware that consular officers from the U.S. Embassy are not always able to travel to assist them.”

“The Department of State considers the threat to U.S. government personnel in Beirut sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under strict security. The internal security policies of the U.S. Embassy may be adjusted at any time and without advance notice,” the advisory read.

Last week, the State Department raised the travel advisory for Israel to Level 3: Reconsider Travel. The advisory for Gaza remains at the most severe – Level 4: Do Not Travel.

Read more on the State Department's advisory.

10:18 p.m. ET, October 17, 2023

White House says Israel feels "very strongly" they did not cause hospital explosion

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

Israel feels “very strongly” they did not cause the explosion at a hospital in Gaza, the White House said Tuesday.

“The Israelis have categorically and very stridently denied that they had anything to do with it," John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, told reporters aboard Air Force One.

He said US President Joe Biden spoke with “all the leaders involved” about his trip to the region Tuesday afternoon “so that all of them could make a collective decision about the value of continuing.”

Asked if the US was giving Israel the “benefit of the doubt,” Kirby declined to weigh in on where the administration thinks responsibility lies for the blast.

Biden has directed the national security team to gather as much information and context as possible “so that we can learn more about what happened,” Kirby said.

As for the cancellation of Biden’s trip to Amman, Jordan, Kirby said it was a “mutual decision” between Jordanian and US officials.

Biden was set to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others in Jordan, but Abbas canceled his meeting with Biden earlier Tuesday.

The White House said that was due to a three-day mourning period.

“The decision not to go to Amman was made in a mutual way when the president spoke to the king earlier this afternoon,” Kirby said, referring to Biden’s call with King Abdullah II of Jordan. “They both agreed that now was not the time to try to throw this meeting on, particularly with President Abbas, making it very clear – understandably so – that he wanted to return home for three days of mourning.”

Asked why the president didn’t push his trip back until after the three-day mourning period, Kirby said there was still a “pretty robust agenda” for Biden on the ground in Israel.

“He wants to have these discussions directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the war cabinet,” Kirby said. “He's looking forward to having an opportunity to thank the first responders, he obviously feels it's important, as is his normal desire, to talk to family members who are suffering and anxious and worried and grieving.”

“Even though the Amman portion isn't going to happen — again for perfectly understandable reasons — that doesn't negate the reason for going,” Kirby said.

9:56 p.m. ET, October 17, 2023

State Department: About 1,500 citizens and family members have departed Israel on US-chartered transportation

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Around 1,500 US citizens and their family members have departed from Israel on US government-chartered transport, a State Department spokesperson told CNN Tuesday.

“Since October 13, we have augmented the limited commercial flight availability by offering more than 5,000 seats on U.S. government-chartered transport by air and sea to U.S. citizens and their immediate family members,” the spokesperson said.

They added that “U.S. government-facilitated flights are scheduled to continue on a rolling basis from Ben Gurion International Airport through at least Sunday, October 22.”

“The departure options we have offered have generally departed at half capacity or less,” they said.

They said “thousands of U.S. citizens have reached out via our online form or via phone since October 7,” but “many have not sought to depart.”

“We have sent messages to every U.S. citizen who contacted us to inform them that we will provide detailed information to any U.S. citizen who indicates interest in departure assistance,” the spokesperson said.

“We are not in a position to share detailed breakdowns of the number of U.S. citizens seeking departure assistance, or the number of U.S. citizens whose departure we have facilitated, given this is an unfolding situation,” they added.

10:10 p.m. ET, October 17, 2023

Countries condemn Gaza hospital blast

From CNN’s Sophia Saifi in Islamabad and Mariya Knight and Martin Goillandeau

Several nations condemned the deadly blast that likely killed hundreds of people in Gaza City.

France said it "strongly condemns the strike against the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City, which caused a very high number of Palestinian civilian casualties," according to statement from the country's Foreign Ministry.

“International humanitarian law is binding on all and must enable the protection of civilian populations. Humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip must be opened up without delay,” the ministry said in the statement.

Pakistan called the deadly blast an “Israeli attack” and the Israeli military was “inhumane and indefensible” for “attacking a hospital, where civilians were seeking shelter and emergency treatment," according to a statement from the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. CNN has not independently confirmed the cause of the blast.

"The indiscriminate targeting of civilian population and facilities is a grave violation of international law and constitutes war crimes," the statement read.

Pakistan called for “the international community to take urgent measures to bring an immediate end to the Israeli bombardment and siege of Gaza and the impunity with which Israeli authorities have operated in the last few days," the statement read.

Israel and Hamas each blamed the other side for the blast.

10:02 p.m. ET, October 17, 2023

Officials downplay expectations for deliverables for Biden's shortened trip

From CNN's Kayla Tausche and MJ Lee

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Tuesday, October 17, 2023.
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Tuesday, October 17, 2023. Jess Rapfogel/AP

When President Joe Biden touches down in Israel for a high-security wartime visit, his focus will be on managing a complicated situation and less on securing clear deliverables, according to two sources close to the matter. It's a clear signal of the White House seeking to manage expectations after a major portion of the trip was scrapped at the last-minute. 

The presence of Biden, who places a premium on personal diplomacy, is meant to show solidarity with the United States’s closest allies and to deter rogue actors in the region from opening up a second front in the war. 

But the sudden cancelation Tuesday night of a major summit with Arab leaders in Jordan posed additional challenges for the president, who had hoped to return to the US after having firmly established a way for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. 

The visit to Israel carries significant risks – both physical and political – with active conflict and asymmetric information.  

A blast at a Gaza hospital Tuesday that Palestinian officials say left hundreds dead led to a last-minute briefing by the president's top national security advisers and a phone call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is still traveling in the Middle East, to assess the intelligence available.

But no conclusion was drawn about who was behind the attack, CNN has learned, with the president instructing his team to continue evaluating the available information. 

The blast – which led to the cancellation of a summit between Biden and Arab leaders in Jordan – was always seen as a possible, and to some extent even probable, risk of such a visit, and the president’s team concluded that the merits of the trip outweighed those risks. 

Even as conflicting claims were coming in about who was responsible for the devastating hospital blast in Gaza and the second half of Biden’s trip was scrapped altogether, multiple sources told CNN that the president’s top advisers did not come close on Tuesday to canceling the Israel portion of the trip. 

“We wouldn’t be making this trip if we didn’t believe we could do this in a safe and efficient manner for the President,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Air Force One en route to Tel Aviv. 

The president will be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his War Cabinet to glean information about what security assistance the US can provide, and he will be assessing the humanitarian situation – with discussions continuing about sending aid into Gaza and allowing refugees to cross through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. 

Despite ongoing discussions with Israel and other partners, sources downplayed the expectation that the visit would result immediately in a refugee deal or the release of American hostages in Hamas custody.