In a heightened display of tensions in Beirut, a significant crowd converged outside the U.S. embassy on Tuesday. Carrying Palestinian and Hamas flags, they were responding to the claim that Israel had targeted a Gaza hospital in an airstrike. However, these accusations were later proven incorrect.
The assembly at the embassy precincts was timed just a few hours before the anticipated arrival of U.S. President Joe Biden in Israel for discussions with its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. This planned visit by President Biden is seen as a gesture of solidarity with Israel, especially after the grave terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7.
Adding to the atmosphere of resentment, Hezbollah, a well-known militant group originating from Lebanon, had earlier urged for “a day of unprecedented anger” against both the U.S. and Israel.
During the protest, the situation intensified. Demonstrators successfully scaled a fence to place a Palestinian flag within the embassy grounds and also set ablaze a structure located just beyond the embassy’s security perimeter. In response, U.S. military personnel present at the scene employed tear gas as a measure to scatter the demonstrators, as reported by The Daily Mail.
Following these events, the U.S. State Department allowed for a “voluntary, temporary departure” of the families of government employees and other non-urgent staff. Additionally, the travel advisory for Lebanon was upgraded to “Level 4: Do Not Travel”. This change was attributed to the unpredictable security climate in Lebanon. The official travel advisory stated, “Reconsider travel to Lebanon due to terrorism, civil unrest, armed conflict, crime, kidnapping, and Embassy Beirut’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.”
The core of the unrest stemmed from claims promoted by several media sources and political figures. They echoed a narrative, purportedly from Palestinian representatives, accusing Israel of orchestrating an airstrike on a hospital in Gaza, leading to the tragic death of 500 civilians. Yet, video evidence suggested otherwise. The footage illustrated the vicinity of the hospital erupting in flames shortly after rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel. This brought forth the possibility that a Hamas rocket might have misfired and struck the hospital. Further inspection revealed that the rocket primarily affected the hospital’s parking space and inflicted only marginal damage to nearby structures.
The Israeli authorities later confirmed that the incident at the hospital was the result of a misfired Hamas rocket, not an airstrike from their side. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) backed this assertion by releasing an audio recording where Hamas members realized their rocket had inadvertently hit the hospital. The IDF stated on social media, “Islamic Jihad struck a Hospital in Gaza — the IDF did not. Listen to the terrorists as they realize this themselves.”
Following these events, high-profile regional leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, decided to call off a meeting they had scheduled with President Biden. This cancellation took place as President Biden was departing for his trip to Israel. In the subsequent days, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met President Abbas in Jordan. This marked their second discussion in a week, centered on the recent attacks on Israel by Hamas. A statement from the U.S. State Department noted that during their previous meeting, Secretary Blinken “thanked President Abbas and his team for their work to further calm the situation for the benefit of Palestinians, Israelis, and the tens of thousands of Americans who also call the West Bank home,” and further stated, “Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to cooperation with the Palestinian leadership and people on efforts to ensure security for all.”