Tuesday, February 27, 2024

American intelligence officials announced on Tuesday their “high confidence” that the explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza last week was caused by a Palestinian rocket that malfunctioned mid-flight, confirming that no Israeli weapon was involved in the incident.

While many mysteries surrounding the incident remain, such as the exact number of casualties, the officials emphasized that the hospital itself sustained little damage and did not collapse.

Instead of providing new imagery or evidence, U.S. intelligence agencies based their strengthened assessment on Israeli intercepts of Palestinian armed groups and publicly available videos. These videos allowed them to determine that the rocket originated from Gaza and, after a catastrophic motor failure, the warhead fell in the hospital’s parking lot. The officials, speaking anonymously, stated that there is no evidence supporting the claim that Israel was responsible.

The U.S. intelligence analysis primarily focused on an Al Jazeera video, though there are multiple videos capturing the projectiles in the sky and the explosion at the hospital. However, their interpretation of the video contradicts The New York Times’ investigation, which found that the projectile shown in the video and others was launched from Israel and detonated far from the hospital. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged the differing interpretations.

Furthermore, U.S. officials supported their assessment with communications intercepts from Israeli sources and images of the explosion and aftermath. Last week, they refuted Palestinian claims of an Israeli strike causing the blast by presenting early intelligence attributing it to an armed Palestinian group. However, detailed evidence was not provided at that time.

U.S. intelligence officials restated their evaluation on Tuesday, affirming that Israel was not responsible for the explosion. Their increased confidence reflected a higher degree of certainty regarding Israel’s lack of involvement.

Israel has attributed the blast to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group aligned with Hamas, dismissing their accusations of an Israeli missile hitting the hospital as “false and baseless.” Hamas has not presented any evidence implicating Israel.

The initial claim by Hamas gained traction, especially as Israel conducted airstrikes in preparation for a potential ground attack to eliminate Hamas. Israel’s relentless campaign reportedly resulted in the deaths of 5,700 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry.

The most recent American assessment partly stems from the lack of certain evidence. A senior intelligence official stated that there were no images showing Palestinians displaying an Israeli weapon at the blast site.

According to U.S. officials, only minor damage occurred at the site, aligning with the theory of a malfunctioning Gaza-made rocket disintegrating in flight rather than an Israeli munition striking the hospital.

The presence of a fireball at the hospital site and the subsequent images of burned cars in the parking lot support the notion of a missile malfunction, according to U.S. officials.

The American assessment also heavily relies on intercepts provided by Israeli intelligence agencies. These intercepts, which American intelligence agencies claim to have verified, consist of Hamas members discussing their belief that an errant or malfunctioning rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad caused the explosion. However, no recordings or transcriptions of these intercepts were released.

The declassified assessment does not specify the exact launch location of the rocket that caused the blast within Gaza.

Nevertheless, the investigation is ongoing, according to the senior official. If any additional information emerges to suggest a different scenario, it will be released by intelligence agencies.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also stated this week that his country’s intelligence services assessed that a Palestinian rocket fired from Gaza and aimed at Israel was likely responsible for the hospital deaths.

The actual number of casualties resulting from the hospital explosion remains a subject of dispute.

Last week, U.S. officials estimated the death toll to be between 100 and 300 but now express low confidence in that assessment. The Hamas-run health ministry reduced its count from 500 to 471.

On Tuesday, U.S. officials stated that obtaining an accurate count of the hospital’s casualties is impossible due to a lack of independent sources.

Days after Hamas accused Israel of bombing a hospital in Gaza City and causing hundreds of deaths, the armed Palestinian group has failed to provide any evidence linking Israel to the explosion or to describe the munition that hit the site. In addition, the group declined to provide specific details to support its casualty count.

Meanwhile, the Hamas-run health ministry has also refrained from releasing further information about the 471 victims, and any traces of the munition appear to have vanished from the blast site, complicating efforts to determine its origin. Furthermore, it was discovered that the impact site was the hospital’s parking lot, not the building itself.

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