News footage showing the lead-up to an explosion at the Al-Ahli Christian hospital in Gaza appears to back up the Israeli claim that the blast was the result of a rocket malfunction and not caused by an Israeli attack.
A news camera from the Israeli Keshet 12 News channel was recording the Gaza Strip at the time of the explosion. Footage published by the organization shows a barrage of rockets being fired some distance away from the hospital. One of the rockets explodes midair for unknown reasons, and shortly afterward, an explosion is seen at the Al-Ahli hospital. The time stamp on the footage shows the explosion occurring around the same time as the reported explosion.
The footage is consistent with Israel’s claim that the blast was the result of a rocket from the militant group Islamic Jihad malfunctioning and falling short.
Israel was largely blamed for the blast, which Palestinian authorities claimed killed as many as 500 people. While it was initially reported that the hospital itself was hit, footage from the day after shows the hospital relatively intact — the explosion took place in the courtyard. While the casualty figures can’t be independently verified, Canon Richard Sewell, the dean of St. George’s College in Jerusalem, told the BBC that an estimated 1,000 people were taking shelter in the courtyard at the time of the blast. Another 600 patients and staff were in the hospital.
The BBC spoke with half a dozen weapons experts about the explosion. Nearly all said that a definite cause or culprit can’t be found with the current evidence but that the evidence available suggests that the blast was not the result of an Israeli airstrike. They pointed to the damage indicating a propellant fire, the lack of a large crater, and the fiery explosion that didn’t kick up a noticeable amount of dust as being the opposite of what would be expected had the blast been an airstrike.
Valeria Scuto, the lead Middle East analyst at Sibylline, a risk assessment company, told the outlet that one scenario in which Israel was the culprit could have been a drone strike with a Hellfire missile, which generates a significant amount of heat without leaving a large crater. However, initial unconfirmed footage of the explosion isn’t consistent with that of Hellfire munition.
Analysts speaking with Sky News agreed with those speaking with the BBC, saying that the current evidence points to a rocket failure being the cause of the blast.
“There is significant evidence of fire, structural damage to cars — but this doesn’t really fit with the same kinds of patterns that you would see after an Israeli airstrike,” Rebecca Shrimpton, defense director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the outlet. “You would expect to see significant cratering, far more structural damage, cloud and powdering after these strikes. … It looks like a lot of the damage was fire and that this fire was the result of a significant amount of fuel and not from the explosion of the warhead.”
Palestinian authorities continue to blame Israel for the explosion. The belief that the blast resulted from an Israeli airstrike led to a massive surge of anti-Israeli and anti-American protests across the Muslim world. Rioters attempted to storm the American Embassy in Beirut but were fought back by police.