US currently assesses that Israel is ‘not responsible’ for Gaza hospital blast

CNNThe US government currently believes that Israel “is not responsible” for the blast at a hospital in Gaza on Tuesday, according to the National Security Council, following President Joe Biden’s comments that a Palestinian militant group was behind the strike.

A spokesperson for the NSC, Adrienne Watson, said the assessment is based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information.

“While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” Watson said in a statement on Wednesday.

Officials told CNN separately that the initial evidence gathered by the US intelligence community suggests that the hospital strike came from a rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.

Among the evidence that’s been gathered is a blast analysis that suggests it was a ground explosion rather than an airstrike that hit the hospital, one of the sources said. There was no singular crater suggesting there was a bomb, but there was extensive fire damage and scattered debris that is consistent with an explosion starting from the ground level, according to the source.

That analysis is one datapoint that’s led intelligence officials to lean toward assessing that the attack on the hospital was a rocket launch gone wrong.

Still, the blast analysis is just one of the things being examined by the intelligence community, which has surged intelligence collection assets to the region. US intelligence officials have not made a final assessment and are still gathering evidence, the officials said.

Not long after landing in Israel on Wednesday, Biden weighed in on who was behind the strike on the hospital. “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his arrival in Israel on Wednesday.

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Biden was later asked what made him confident the Israelis weren’t behind the hospital strike.

“The data I was shown by my Defense Department,” he said.

In his remarks later on Wednesday, Biden reiterated that based on the information the US has seen, the blast appears to have been “the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza.”

“The Palestinian people are suffering greatly as well – we mourn the loss of innocent Palestinian lives,” he said. “Like the entire world, I was outraged and saddened by the enormous loss of life yesterday in the hospital in Gaza. Based on the information we’ve seen to date, it appears the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza. The United States unequivocally stands for the protection of civilian life during conflict, and I grieve, I truly grieve for the families were killed or wounded by this tragedy.”

Authorities in Gaza have said Israel was behind the deadly blast at the hospital, while the Israel Defense Forces said its intelligence showed a “failed rocket launch” by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group was responsible for the explosion.

An IDF spokesman said Wednesday that imagery following the blast showed “no cratering and no structural damage to nearby buildings.”

“There are no craters here. The walls stay intact. This shows is it not an aerial munition that hit the parking lot” of the hospital, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at a news conference Wednesday. “Analysis of our aerial footage confirms that there was no direct hit of the hospital itself. The only location damaged is outside the hospital in the parking lot where we can see signs of burning.”

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The US intelligence community has been reviewing different kinds of intelligence to try to reach an assessment, including overhead imagery as well as the blast analysis, the officials said.

“I believe the US intelligence community likely has enough imagery, communications intercepts, and other data to determine where the projectile originated that stuck in the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital and what the original statements of people on the ground were as to what they believed happened,” said Mick Mulroy, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East and retired CIA officer.

“In addition, from the video released publicly, the explosion is consistent with a rocket that still had a lot of rocket fuel at the time of impact,” Mulroy added.

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, a CNN national security and military analyst, said the US military has overhead platforms from satellites that see “a missile burn when it takes off or when something explodes and comes out of the sky.”

The imagery released by the Israeli military of the explosion site was also “compelling,” Hertling said.

“It is very compelling, but when you also look at that aftermath, where’s the crater? When you’re talking about a crater from an Israeli bomb, there’s going to be a hole there,” he said.