NATIONAL NEWS

New AP analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion rules out widely cited video

Nov 22, 2023, 7:12 AM

FILE - Men look over the site of a deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oc...

FILE - Men look over the site of a deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. This photo and others taken the morning after the explosion show no evidence of a large crater at the impact site that would be consistent with a large bomb such as those dropped by Israeli aircraft in other recent strikes. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Associated Press is publishing an updated visual analysis of the Oct. 17 explosion at Gaza’s Al-Ahli Hospital. The AP initially assessed that the explosion was likely caused by a rocket launched from within Gaza that misfired, and that assessment has not changed. However, new images that emerged after AP’s story was published show that a key video used in the initial analysis is no longer tied to the hospital explosion.

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An updated Associated Press visual analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion has ruled out a widely cited Al Jazeera news channel video that initially appeared to show a rocket fired from the Palestinian territory that broke up in the air and crashed to the ground.

But even without that footage, additional videos of rocket fire in the direction of the hospital, photos from the explosion site and other evidence leave unchanged AP’s original assessment that a rocket launched from Gaza the night of Oct. 17 most likely went astray and hit the medical center’s courtyard. Though AP reached its analysis independently, U.S. and French intelligence agencies have shared the same conclusion.

WHY IS THE AP RULING OUT THE AL JAZEERA VIDEO?

New video from a different angle shows the projectile seen in the Al Jazeera video was actually fired from Israel and that its remnants also fell in Israel, too far from Gaza’s Al-Ahli Hospital to have been a factor in the Oct. 17 explosion.

AP’s initial analysis Oct. 21 leaned heavily on the footage from Al Jazeera, which was airing live coverage of the Gaza City skyline just before 7 p.m. on Oct. 17 when a volley of rockets lit up the night sky. One of the rockets appeared to veer from the others, break apart in a fireworks-like flash and leave a brief trail of sparks. While that video does not show the fragments hitting the hospital, that is what a half-dozen experts told AP they believed was the most likely scenario.

But just hours after AP’s analysis published, an open-source intelligence analyst posting on the social media platform X, formally known as Twitter, highlighted an additional video of the Gaza City skyline captured by a livestream camera 38 miles (62 kilometers) away from al-Ahli hospital in the Israeli beach town of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv. 

Seen from that vantage point, the projectile from the Al Jazeera footage is shown to have been much farther from the Gaza hospital than it initially appeared. When paired with other videos, the Bat Yam footage shows what appears to be a missile launched near the Israeli kibbutz of Alumim, about 2.5 miles (4 km) east of the Gaza border. 

AP’s analysis of the new video was backed by a range of experts in geolocation and open-source intelligence, who noted that evolving visual evidence is not uncommon in active conflicts like the Israeli-Hamas war, which make it difficult if not impossible to gather definitive forensic proof on the ground.

“The video from the camera in Bat Yam suggests that the rocket seen in the Al Jazeera video was not close enough to Al-Ahli Hospital to be responsible for the explosion that occurred at the hospital,” said Andrea Richardson, a lawyer and war crimes investigator who is a consultant with the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. 

The Israel military did not respond to questions from the AP about whether it was firing rockets in the area Oct. 17.

The military added that it did not rely exclusively on the Al Jazeera video to reach its conclusion that the explosion at the hospital was caused by the failed launch of a missile by the Islamic Jihad, a militant group that works with Hamas. The assessment, it said, was “backed by various intelligence and visual evidence, shared with multiple agencies of our partnering countries.” 

U.S. and French intelligence officials both also concluded last month that a stray rocket fired from Gaza struck the hospital and told the AP this past was week their assessments have not changed.

WHY IS AP STILL CONCLUDING A PALESTINIAN ROCKET WAS LIKELY TO BLAME?

AP’s updated analysis found that the most likely scenario is still that the medical facility was struck by a Palestinian rocket that went astray, with experts citing:

—Three videos that show Palestinian militants launching multiple rockets from inside Gaza on a trajectory that would have taken them in the direction of the hospital seconds before the explosion. Damage at the scene was also not consistent with Israeli air strikes or artillery.

One of the videos obtained by the AP shows a barrage of at least 17 rockets being launched from inside Gaza before a large explosion lights up the horizon on the Palestinian side of the border. The camera is on a building in Netiv Ha’asara, an Israeli community footsteps from the border wall, and faces southwest, confirming that the rocket launches and a large explosion were in the direction of Gaza City.

Another video by the Israeli news station Channel 12 — taken from a camera on the upper floor of its building in Netivot, a town about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of the hospital in Gaza City — also captured the barrage of rockets fired at 6:59 p.m.

The Bat Yam camera, in addition to capturing the launch in Israel, also showed the large barrage of rockets fired from within Gaza.

Within seconds of those rocket launches in Gaza, Israel’s civil defense network issued alerts to residents in multiple cities and towns of incoming militant rockets and warned them to take cover.

Israel later released evidence from its radar stations tracking rockets fired from within Gaza on the evening of Oct. 17 on trajectories that would have taken them over the Gaza City neighborhood where the hospital is located. 

The Israeli military contends that roughly 1 in 10 of the rockets launched at Israel by militants in Gaza during the current war have malfunctioned and crashed in Gaza. While AP cannot independently verify that, there have been documented instances of civilians in Gaza being killed by malfunctioning militant rockets, including at least a dozen in an incident last year.

—Social media posts from Palestinian militants appeared to acknowledge rocket fire.

At 7 p.m., one minute after the explosion, Hamas’ military wing al-Qassam Brigades said in a post to its Telegram channel that it “fired at occupied Ashdod with a barrage of rockets.” Ashdod is an Israeli coastal city about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Gaza.

Minutes later, Islamic Jihad posted on Telegram that it had launched a rocket strike on Tel Aviv in response “to massacre against civilians.” Over the next hour, there were five more posts from the militant groups announcing rocket attacks against Israel.

—The hospital scene showed relatively modest blast damage, not consistent with an Israeli airstrike. And Hamas has provided no munitions debris or any other evidence to support its claim Israel was responsible.

Videos and photos reviewed by AP appear to show the explosion in the hospital’s courtyard and central parking lot, where civilians had taken refuge after orders to evacuate the city.

A video taken from a nearby balcony captured the sound of an incoming projectile followed by a large orange fireball erupting from the hospital grounds. The sound captured on the video rules out that the source of the explosion was on the ground, such as a car bomb or suicide vest.

AP photos taken the morning after the explosion also showed no evidence of a large crater at the impact site that would be consistent with a large bomb such as those dropped by Israeli aircraft in other recent strikes. The hospital buildings surrounding the outdoor area at the center of the explosion were still standing and did not appear to suffer significant structural damage, suggesting a much smaller explosive payload than the Israelis typically use.

N.R. Jenzen-Jones, an intelligence researcher who studies military weapons, also ruled out artillery shells or mortar shells, which would have caused a strong blast with lots of shrapnel, but not the orange fireball and intense blaze seen in videos from the hospital explosion.

Jenzen-Jones said the most likely explanation would be a failed militant rocket that was still full of highly flammable propellent, which resulted in the fireball seen in the balcony video. “We would lean towards it being a Palestinian-made craft-produced rocket,” he said, “one that probably fell short of its target and or failed shortly after launch.”

U.S. and French intelligence officials also noted the “light structural damage” to the hospital’s buildings, no large impact crater and no evidence of debris from Israeli munitions, such as fragments from the metal casing of a bomb. 

“If it were present, Palestinian militants almost certainly would have publicized it,” the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement.

Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad told AP the group has provided no such physical evidence because nothing remained. 

“The rocket is vaporized,” he said. “We are ready to allow for a neutral investigation, a committee to come … (to determine) who is responsible for this crime.”

Though some details of the analysis changed with the emergence of additional evidence, open-source intelligence expert Richardson stressed that was part of the normal process for examining events unfolding in real time.

“Open-source investigators are transparent concerning the evidence and processes we use to reach our findings,” said Richardson, who has worked on war crimes investigations in the Middle East. “Transparency allows others to comment on and contribute to the search for truth. Assessments evolve based on new and additional information.”

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Biesecker reported from Washington.

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Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org or https://www.ap.org/tips/

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New AP analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion rules out widely cited video