A close look at some key evidence in the Gaza hospital blast
By Aric Toler, Haley Willis, Riley Mellen, Alexander Cardia, Natalie Reneau, Julian E. Barnes and Christoph Koettl
The video shows a projectile streaking through the darkened skies over Gaza and exploding in the air. Seconds later, another explosion is seen on the ground.
The footage has become a widely cited piece of evidence as Israeli and American officials have made the case that an errant Palestinian rocket malfunctioned in the sky, fell to the ground and caused a deadly explosion at al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City.
But a detailed visual analysis by The New York Times concludes that the video clip — taken from an Al-Jazeera television camera livestreaming on the night of Oct. 17 — shows something else. The missile seen in the video is most likely not what caused the explosion at the hospital. It actually detonated in the sky roughly 2 miles away, the Times found, and is an unrelated aspect of the fighting that unfolded over the Israeli-Gaza border that night.
The Times’ finding does not answer what actually did cause the hospital blast, or who is responsible. The contention by Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies that a failed Palestinian rocket launch is to blame remains plausible. But the Times 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 hospital blast has become a searing, contested episode in the war that began Oct. 7 after Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, invaded Israel, an attack that the Israeli government says killed more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers, and seized 200 hostages who were taken back to Gaza. Israel has responded to the Hamas attack with a relentless artillery and bombing campaign that has killed 5,700 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, as the Israeli military prepares for a ground invasion.
Israeli officials and Palestinian militants blame each other for the hospital explosion. Multiple videos assembled and analyzed by the Times show that militants were firing dozens of rockets from southwest of the hospital minutes before the blast, and the fiery explosion at the hospital is consistent with a failed rocket falling well short of its target with unspent fuel.
The footage also suggests that Israeli bombardment was taking place and that two explosions near the hospital can be seen within two minutes of it being struck. Maj. Nir Dinar, an Israeli military spokesperson, told the Times that military forces were not striking “within a range that endangered the hospital,” but declined to say how far away the nearest strike was.
A week after the hospital tragedy, much remains in question.
The death toll, initially put at 500 by Hamas and then lowered to 471, is believed by Western intelligence agencies to be considerably lower — but no number has been verified. The hospital itself was not directly struck; whatever caused the explosion actually hit the hospital courtyard, where people had gathered for safety, and a handful of parked cars.
Moreover, the crater left from the impact was relatively small, a fact that Israel has cited in arguing that none of its munitions caused the blast, and could be consistent with a number of different munitions. Hamas has not produced a remnant of an Israeli munition or any physical evidence to back up its claim that Israel is responsible.
U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that agencies had assessed that the video shows a Palestinian rocket launched from Gaza undergoing a “catastrophic motor failure” before part of the rocket crashed into the hospital grounds. A senior intelligence official said authorities could not rule out that new information would come to light that would change their assessment but said they had high confidence in their conclusions.
Asked about the Times’ findings, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the Times and U.S. intelligence agencies had different interpretations of the video.
Within an hour of the hospital blast, an information war began. Hamas immediately blamed an Israeli airstrike, while the Israel Defense Forces soon denied any responsibility and placed the blame on a malfunctioning Palestinian rocket.
Israeli officials released a report about the explosion Oct. 18 and also made public one conversation they said was intercepted between Hamas fighters blaming Islamic Jihad for the blast. Israel also has cited several other pieces of evidence that have not been made public, including logs of military activity, information gleaned from radar systems, other audio intercepts and other videos.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials have pointed to the Al-Jazeera video in media interviews and social media.
The Al-Jazeera video footage was shared three times by the Israel Defense Forces on X, formerly Twitter. In the posts, the Israeli military identified the moving aerial object as a “rocket aimed at Israel” that “misfired and exploded” at nearly the same time as the hospital blast. Spokespeople for the Israeli military also explicitly identified this munition as the misfired rocket that caused the explosion in interviews with CNN and the BBC on Oct. 18 and in an interview with India Today on Oct. 19.
Numerous media outlets have shown the video footage and several have cited it as evidence that a Palestinian rocket hit the hospital.
But the Times concluded that the missile in the video was never near the hospital. It was launched from Israel, not Gaza, and appears to have exploded above the Israeli-Gaza border, at least 2 miles away from the hospital.
To trace the object in the sky back to Israeli territory, the Times synchronized the Al-Jazeera footage with five other videos filmed at the same time, including footage from an Israeli television station, Channel 12, and a CCTV camera in Tel Aviv. These different videos provided a view of the missile from north, south, east and west. Using satellite imagery to triangulate the launch point in those videos, the Times determined that the projectile was fired toward Gaza from near the Israeli town of Nahal Oz shortly before the deadly hospital blast. The findings match the conclusion reached by some online researchers.
In addition, the videos show that the projectile in the Al-Jazeera footage was launched after the barrage of Palestinian rockets Israeli officials assessed was responsible for the hospital explosion.
From 6:59 p.m. on Oct. 17, barrages of Palestinian rockets are fired from two positions southwest and northwest of al-Ahli hospital, the videos show. Flames from the Palestinian rockets are visible in the nighttime sky as their engines propel them northeast toward Israel. More than 25 seconds elapse between the final Palestinian rocket and the hospital explosion.
The Times cannot independently identify the type of projectile that was fired from Israel, though it was launched from an area known to have an Iron Dome defense system. The Israeli military says it doesn’t fire Iron Dome interceptors into Gaza, and indeed the missile seen in the video may not have crossed over into Gaza territory. The Israeli military has stated that the Iron Dome did not shoot any interceptors in the questioned time and area.