Editor’s Note: This story includes analysis of a video of the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital blast, which was cited by Israel and the US as evidence that a rocket fired from Gaza failed and crashed into the hospital complex. Since this article was first published, CNN reviewed several more videos and determined that the projectile pictured in the footage was launched from Israel and is unlikely to be connected to the hospital explosion. However, that revelation does not alter CNN’s ultimate findings – that while no evidence can be conclusive, the balance of evidence suggests the explosion was not the result of an Israeli airstrike and was likely caused by a malfunctioning rocket. Read our new analysis here. The story below has been updated.
In the days since a blast ripped through the packed Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City, killing hundreds of Palestinians, dueling claims between Palestinian militants and the Israeli government over culpability are still raging. But forensic analysis of publicly available imagery and footage has begun to offer some clues as to what caused the explosion.
CNN has reviewed dozens of videos posted on social media, aired on live broadcasts and filmed by a freelance journalist working for CNN in Gaza, as well as satellite imagery, to piece together what happened in as much detail as possible.
Without the ability to access the site and gather evidence from the ground, no conclusion can be definitive. But CNN’s analysis suggests that a rocket launched from within Gaza broke up midair, and that the blast at the hospital was the result of part of the rocket landing at the hospital complex.
Weapons and explosive experts with decades of experience assessing bomb damage, who reviewed the visual evidence, told CNN they believe this to be the most likely scenario – although they caution the absence of munition remnants or shrapnel from the scene made it difficult to be sure. All agreed that the available evidence of the damage at the site was not consistent with an Israeli airstrike.
Israel says that a “misfired” rocket by militant group Islamic Jihad caused the blast, a claim that US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday is backed up by US intelligence. A spokesperson for the National Security Council later said that analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information suggested that Israel is “not responsible.”
Palestinian officials and several Arab leaders nevertheless accuse Israel of hitting the hospital amid its ongoing airstrikes in Gaza. Islamic Jihad (or PIJ) – a rival group to Hamas – has denied responsibility.
The Israel-Hamas war has triggered a wave of misleading content and false claims online. That misinformation, coupled with the polarizing nature of the conflict, has made it difficult to sort fact from fiction.
In the past few days, a number of outlets have published investigations into the Al-Ahli Hospital blast. Some have reached diametrically different conclusions, reflecting the challenges of doing such analysis remotely.
But as more information surfaces, CNN’s investigation – which includes a review of nighttime video of the explosion, and horrifying images of those injured and killed inside the hospital complex – is an effort to shed light on details of the blast beyond what Israel and the US have produced publicly.
A flash of light in the dark
On the evening of October 17, a barrage of rocket fire illuminated the night sky over Gaza before the deadly blast, according to videos analyzed by CNN.
An Al Jazeera camera, located in western Gaza and facing east, was broadcasting live on the channel at 6:59 p.m. local time on Tuesday night, according to the timestamp. The footage shows a projectile traveling in an upwards trajectory before reversing direction and exploding, leaving a brief, bright streak of light in the night sky above Gaza City. Just moments later, two blasts are visible on the ground, including one at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital.
The Israeli and US governments cited the Al Jazeera footage as part of their assessments of the explosion at Al-Ahli, suggesting that it showed the moment a rocket fired from Gaza failed mid-air and crashed into the hospital grounds.