The devastating Gaza hospital blast is shrouded in uncertainty A day after a devastating explosion rocked Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza, leading to widespread protests in the region, the United States has issued its own assessment regarding the cause of the destruction.
Israel has presented evidence suggesting that the blast resulted from a misfire by the militant group Islamic Jihad, and on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden endorsed this explanation, citing information from US intelligence. A spokesperson for the National Security Council later indicated that analysis of aerial imagery, intercepts, and publicly available information did not implicate Israel.
Nevertheless, Palestinian officials and several Arab leaders continue to accuse Israel of targeting the hospital during its ongoing airstrikes in Gaza. Islamic Jihad, a rival group to Hamas, has denied responsibility for the incident.
The explosion is believed to have resulted in hundreds of casualties, as reported by the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza, and the disturbing images from the aftermath have triggered protests across the region.
What transpired at the hospital?
A video capturing the moment of the explosion at Al-Alhi Baptist Hospital, verified and geolocated by CNN, vividly shows the night sky illuminating as a powerful blast erupts within the hospital premises, giving rise to a massive plume of flames and smoke.
Inside the building, sheer panic gripped the staff. Dr. Fadel Na’eem, the head of the orthopedic department, recounted that he was in the midst of a surgical procedure when an earth-shattering explosion reverberated throughout the hospital. Chaos unfolded as fellow staff members rushed into the operating room, their voices filled with terror as they urgently reported numerous casualties.
In a recorded video shared with CNN, Dr. Na’eem expressed, “I had just completed a surgery, and suddenly, we were jolted by a tremendous explosion. Initially, we believed it to be an incident outside the hospital, as the notion of the hospital being a target never crossed our minds.”
Upon exiting the theater, Dr. Na’eem described encountering a harrowing scene of unimaginable proportions. He recounted witnessing numerous beheaded individuals and a pervasive, raging fire that had engulfed the surroundings. Dr. Na’eem explained that despite the valiant efforts of the medical team to attend to the injured and dying, the sheer scale of the devastation left them feeling utterly helpless. The numbers were so overwhelming that their efforts seemed futile.
Although it is challenging to independently verify the exact death toll resulting from the explosion, the carnage was evident in images shared on social media in the aftermath. These images depicted young children, covered in dust, being rushed for medical treatment to address their injuries, while lifeless bodies lay scattered on the ground.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza has reported a death toll exceeding 400 individuals.
What the Israelis and Palestinians have said
Israeli officials denied responsibility for the attack on Tuesday evening, with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Jonathan Conricus telling CNN on Wednesday that the evidence indicated it could not have been an Israeli bomb. Israel claims its intelligence points to a failed rocket launch by the Islamic Jihad group, a claim vehemently denied by the group. The IDF released an audio recording allegedly capturing a conversation between two Hamas operatives discussing a rocket launch near the hospital. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of these recordings. The IDF also presented imagery suggesting the destruction at the hospital was not caused by an airstrike, citing the absence of visible craters or significant building damage that would typically result from such an attack.
A video shared by the official State of Israel’s social media account on Tuesday night was initially presented as evidence that the hospital had been hit by outgoing rocket fire from militant groups. However, discrepancies in the video’s timestamp raised doubts about its accuracy, leading to the subsequent removal of the tweet.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Lior Haiat, explained to CNN, “We received the video, believing it came from an official source, but upon further inquiry, the source mentioned that they obtained it elsewhere. Consequently, we removed the video.”
On Wednesday, Gaza officials also asserted that the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital had sustained damage from two Israeli shells four days prior. Following this, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly issued a warning to the hospital’s management, urging them to evacuate the premises. CNN has sought a response from the IDF regarding these claims.
What US intelligence suggests
According to the US National Security Council (NSC), the US government assesses that Israel was not responsible for the blast at the hospital. During his visit to Israel, President Biden informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the damage seemed to be caused by “the other team” and not Israel. The NSC stated that intelligence suggests some Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip believed the explosion was likely caused by an errant rocket or missile launch carried out by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). They were still investigating the incident. US officials also indicated that initial evidence gathered by the US intelligence community points to a rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group as the cause of the hospital strike.
One piece of evidence under consideration indicates that the incident at the hospital was likely caused by a ground explosion, not an airstrike. According to a source, a blast analysis was conducted, revealing no single crater typical of a bomb impact. However, extensive fire damage and scattered debris consistent with a ground-level explosion were observed, suggesting a rocket launch mishap.
This blast analysis is just one aspect being investigated by intelligence officials, who have deployed additional intelligence-gathering resources to the area.
How has the world reacted?
Numerous nations have expressed shock and concern over the tragic loss of life at the hospital, emphasizing the need for caution in assigning blame until a thorough investigation can shed light on the circumstances.
The United Nations has called for a meticulous inquiry into the incident. It is unlikely that the world will have a definitive understanding of what caused the explosion until impartial investigators can examine the situation in depth.
An Israeli official and another reliable source have indicated that Israel shared intelligence with the United States regarding the Gaza hospital explosion.
In contrast, several Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq, have issued statements condemning Israel and accusing its military of bombing the hospital.
Simultaneously, large gatherings of protesters in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, and Tunisia have voiced anti-Israel sentiments. Protests have also erupted in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
This information has been reported by CNN correspondents Kareem Khadder, Eyad Kourdi, Donald Judd, Richard Allen Greene, Tim Lister, and Chloe Liu.