US and Israeli officials said their intelligence showed that a deadly explosion at a hospital in Gaza on Tuesday was caused by an armed Palestinian group, denying Palestinian claims that the explosion was caused by an Israeli strike.
US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said they were basing their early analysis on multiple pieces of intelligence indicating that the blast at Ahli Arab Hospital was caused by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group affiliated with Hamas. The group said Israel’s accusations that one of its rockets had malfunctioned and hit the hospital were “false and baseless”. Hamas has not provided any documentation of Israeli involvement.
Officials cautioned that the analysis is preliminary and evidence collection and analysis continues.
US intelligence, first mentioned by President Biden, includes satellite and other infrared data showing rocket or missile launches from Palestinian fighter positions inside Gaza. U.S. intelligence agencies also analyzed open-source videos — footage collected by journalists and others — of the launch that showed it did not come from the direction of Israeli military positions, officials said. Israeli officials have also provided the United States with intercepted Hamas officials who say the attack came from forces affiliated with Palestinian militant groups.
“The US government believes that Israel is not responsible for the explosion that killed hundreds of civilians yesterday at Al Ahli Hospital in the Gaza Strip,” said Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “Our assessment is based on available reports, including intelligence, missile activity, and open source video and images of the incident.”
Ms Watson said intelligence indicated that some Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip believed the explosion was likely caused by an errant rocket or missile launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. “The militants are still investigating what happened. We continue to work to confirm whether the explosion was caused by a failed PIJ rocket,” she said.
Efforts by US and Israeli officials to explain their findings came as protests over the Gaza hospital explosion spread across the Middle East, bringing defiant crowds to the embassies and consulates of countries protesters said were complicit in the humanitarian crisis.
Multiple officials said the evidence gathered so far refuted claims that Israeli forces were responsible for the blast, and was strong enough for President Biden to make comments supporting Israel’s account of events.
“Based on what I’ve seen, it appears that another team did it, not you,” Mr. Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint appearance on his rare wartime visit to Israel. Mr. Biden later said he based his comments on the U.S. military’s assessment.
A senior Defense Department official said based on launch data collected by infrared sensors, the United States is “fairly confident” that the launch did not come from Israeli forces.
The Israel Defense Forces said that after an inspection, they found that the explosion was caused by a faulty rocket fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The group rejected the claim, and Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said the explosion was caused by an Israeli strike, which it said had killed hundreds of Palestinians.
At a press briefing on Wednesday morning, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said Islamic Jihad fired 10 rockets at 18:59 local time. One of the rockets, he said, fell to the ground prematurely, hitting the parking lot in front of the hospital. He said that Israel did not fire any weapons at the hospital area at that time.
He provided a photo of the parking lot it was published on social media Wednesday morning that he said did not show the type of impact an Israeli missile would cause. The New York Times has not confirmed the photo. The photo shows the aftermath of the fire — burned cars and scorched earth. Admiral Hagari said the damage was caused by rocket fuel that ignited after hitting the ground.
He also showed aerial footage that he said was taken by a military drone overnight. The pictures, he said, showed no evidence of a crater caused by an Israeli missile.
And he rejected suggestions that the attack was caused by an errant Israeli air defense interceptor. He said Israel does not fire anti-aircraft missiles into Gazana airspace.
On Tuesday, Israeli officials released intercepted communications to US intelligence agencies.
US officials said their assessment was not based solely on Israeli intercepts. US officials spent the night analyzing those intercepts along with open-source data, videos taken by journalists and others showing the missile flying near the hospital.
Senators Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee, also said Wednesday that the committee had reviewed intelligence and attributed the explosion to a failed rocket launch by a Palestinian group.
The United States regularly uses a collection of infrared satellites to analyze launches. The warning system was among the first intelligence to show that Russian forces shot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine in 2014.