Iran's Foreign Minister warns expansion of Gaza war is 'inevitable'

Hossein Amirabdollahian discussed the conflict with Qatar's Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani

Smoke rises over Gaza as the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants. Reuters
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Iran has warned that the scale of civilian suffering caused by Israel's war on Hamas will inevitably lead to an expansion of the conflict, amid reports from Gaza of Israeli air strikes on or near several hospitals in the enclave.

“Due to the expansion of the intensity of the war against Gaza's civilian residents, expansion of the scope of the war has become inevitable,” Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amirabdollahian told Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Thursday night.

The comments from Mr Amirabdollahian could ramp up concerns over whether Washington's diplomatic efforts and deployment of US naval forces to the eastern Mediterranean will be able to keep the conflict from further destabilising the Middle East.

Iran's Irna news agency reported the comments, made during a telephone conversation, on Friday.

The two top diplomats also exchanged views on some initiatives on a potential ceasefire in Gaza.

Iran supports Hamas but says it did not play any role in the militants' attack on Israel last month that led to the crisis.

Iran also backs Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group that has deep ties with Hamas and Islamic Jihad – another Palestinian faction in Gaza that is also backed by Iran.

Israel's bombardment and siege of Gaza over the past month has created a humanitarian catastrophe. Thousands of people have been seeking medical treatment and shelter in the few hospitals still open, with those in the combat zone operating in grave danger.

“The Israeli occupation launched simultaneous strikes on a number of hospitals during the past hours,” Gaza ministry of health spokesman Ashraf Al Qidra told regional media.

Mr Al Qidra said an Israeli strike hit a courtyard in Al Shifa hospital, the biggest in Gaza city, causing casualties, but he did not provide details. Israel said Hamas has hidden command centres and tunnels beneath Al Shifa and other hospitals such as the Indonesian Hospital, allegations Hamas denies.

Israel's military did not directly comment on Mr Al Qidra's statement, but it has said it does not target civilians.

“While the world sees neighbourhoods with schools, hospitals, scout groups, children’s playgrounds and mosques, Hamas sees an opportunity to exploit,” Israel's military said in a statement.

On Monday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi accused the US of “encouraging” Israel to kill and carry out “cruel acts” against Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip.

“The aid from the United States to the Zionist regime [Israel] is encouraging them to kill and commit cruel acts of neglect against the Palestinian people,” Mr Raisi told a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani in Tehran.

“We believe that the bombings must stop as soon as possible, that a ceasefire must be declared immediately and that aid be provided to the oppressed and proud people of Gaza.

“These horrible crimes against humanity are a genocide, which is carried out by the Zionist regime [Israel] with the support of the United States and certain European countries.”

Hospitals damaged

The month-old Israeli military campaign to wipe out Hamas has left Gaza's hospitals struggling to cope, as medical supplies, clean water and fuel to power generators have been running out.

Gaza's health ministry has said 18 of Gaza's 35 hospitals and 40 other health centres were out of service either due to damage from shelling or lack of fuel.

Palestinian media published video footage on Friday of Al Shifa, which Reuters was unable to authenticate immediately, that it said showed the aftermath of an Israeli attack on a car park where displaced Palestinians were sheltered and journalists were observing.

A pool of blood could be seen next to the body of a man being placed on a stretcher.

“With ongoing strikes and fighting nearby [Al Shifa], we are gravely concerned about the well-being of thousands of civilians there, many children among them, seeking medical care and shelter,” Human Rights Watch said on social media site X, formerly Twitter.

Mr Al Qidra said Al Rantisi and Al Nasr children's hospitals “have been witnessing a series of direct attacks and bombardments” on Friday. He said strikes on the hospital grounds at Al Rantisi set vehicles on fire but they had been partly extinguished.

Indonesia's foreign ministry said on Friday that there were explosions near the Indonesian Hospital overnight, which damaged parts of the hospital at the northern end of the narrow coastal enclave. It did not say who was responsible for the explosion and it did not report any deaths or injuries.

“Indonesia once again condemns the savage attacks on civilians and civilian objects, especially humanitarian facilities, in Gaza,” the ministry said in a statement.

Israel says 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and about 240 taken hostage by Hamas in the October 7 raid that triggered its assault on Gaza. Israel says it has lost 35 soldiers in the enclave.

Palestinian officials said 10,812 Gaza residents had been killed as of Thursday, about 40 per cent of them children, in air and artillery strikes.

Israel's military advance on central Gaza city, which brought tanks within about 1.2 kilometres of Al Shifa, according to residents, has raised questions about how Israel will interpret international laws on protecting medical centres and displaced people sheltering there.

Deadly air strikes on refugee camps, a medical convoy and near hospitals have already prompted fierce arguments among some of Israel's western allies over its military's adherence to international law.

The Israeli military has allowed some wounded Palestinian civilians to cross into Egypt for treatment.

Updated: November 10, 2023, 11:35 AM