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Gaza hospital strike: NY Times investigation casts doubt on Israel's account

Analysis finds key footage repeatedly cited by Israeli officials as errant Palestinian rocket that hit hospital was 'never near' the site and was fired from Israel
A man inspects the area of Al-Ahli hospital where hundreds of Palestinians were killed (Reuters)
A man inspects the area of al-Ahli hospital where hundreds of Palestinians were killed (Reuters)

A New York Times investigation into the strike on al-Ahli al-Arab hospital in Gaza that killed at least 471 Palestinians last week has cast doubts on the main piece of evidence underlying the Israeli account of the attack.

The detailed analysis, based on footage from a variety of angles and other sources of evidence relating to events on the evening of 17 October, concludes that the projectile that hit the hospital was fired at Gaza from the Israeli town of Nahal Oz.

The findings stand in stark contrast to the Israeli explanation, supported by official statements from the US, the UK, Canada, and Italy, that the hospital was bombed by an errant rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Gaza.

The source of the projectile that hit the hospital being used both to treat patients wounded in Israeli bombings and as a shelter for displaced residents has become a divisive topic since the strike.

Hamas has maintained that the projectile came from Israel, saying that the footage of it resembled previous Israeli bombings and that the group's "homemade rockets" are incapable of inflicting that level of destruction.

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One key source of evidence cited by the Israelis is Al Jazeera video footage showing a projectile flying over Gaza and exploding in the air, followed seconds later by an explosion on the ground.

Israeli officials have said that the clip shows a misfired Palestinian rocket falling and causing the explosion at the hospital.

But the NYT says its investigation has found that the missile in the video "was never near the hospital" and was launched from near the Israeli town of Nahal Oz.

It appears to have detonated in the sky, above the Israeli-Gaza border, at least two miles away from the site.

The Times said it could not say what caused the blast or who was responsible and that it was still possible that a failed Palestinian rocket was behind the attack.

"But the [NYT] analysis does cast doubt on one of the most-publicized pieces of evidence that Israeli officials have used to make their case and complicates the straightforward narrative they have put forth," the investigation concludes.

'Different interpretations'

US intelligence officials told the NYT on Tuesday that, based on publicly available video and Israeli intercepts of Palestinian fighters, they had assessed that the attack was caused by a Palestinian rocket that broke up in midair. 

A spokesperson for the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence told the NYT investigators that US intelligence agencies had "different interpretations" of the key footage.

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The NYT further found that the projectile in the Al Jazeera footage was launched from Israel after a barrage of Palestinian rockets that Israeli officials have said were responsible for the hospital strike.

The newspaper said it could not identify what type of projectile it was, but that it was launched from an area known to have an Iron Dome defense system.

The investigation also found evidence that continues to raise questions about who was responsible.

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It says analysed footage shows that Israel's bombardment took place at the time of the attack and that two explosions could be seen within two minutes of the hospital being hit.

The videos also show that Palestinian fighters were shooting off rockets southwest of the hospital minutes before the blast and that the explosion at the hospital is “consistent with a failed rocket falling well short of its target with unspent fuel”.

Israel has said it used 6,000 bombs in the first six days of the war, more than the US used in a year in Afghanistan and double the amount the US-led coalition used against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in a month.

Palestinian fighters have continued to target Israel with rockets from hidden launch sites within Gaza.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health told Middle East Eye the Israeli army told all hospitals in northern Gaza and the central Gaza City, including the al-Ahli hospital, to clear out or face air strikes a week before the explosion.

The ministry said it rejected the threats and refused to leave vulnerable patients.

At least 6,546 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip and 1,400 Israelis have been killed since fighting started on 7 October.

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