The deadly explosion that is believed to have killed hundreds of people at the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City last week was caused when a rocket launched by a Palestinian militant group broke apart in midair and the warhead fell on the hospital, US intelligence officials said on Tuesday.
The US intelligence findings largely confirmed CNN reporting based on open source materials that determined that a rocket launched from within Gaza broke up midair, causing the blast at the hospital.
It also remains consistent with the top-line assessment the administration shared with Congress last week.
But officials on Tuesday offered the most detailed explanation to date of how the US reached its assessment that Israel was not behind the blast, which the intelligence community now believes killed between 100 and 300 people. Officials also revealed that the intelligence community’s judgment that the blast was not caused by an Israeli missile was “high confidence.”
Intelligence officials said the two primary pieces of evidence were imagery of the blast site, which showed damage consistent with a rocket, rather than a missile fired from Israel; and analysis of video taken from four locations, some of which was aired on Al Jazeera, that captured the rocket’s path.
The intelligence community was able to geolocate that imagery by matching up the silhouettes of buildings in the hospital compound and adjacent structures with the specific buildings from the video, according to an intelligence official.
Here is how the official described the rocket’s path:
“Two of the cameras captured the flight of the projectile, and when we assess those videos, our judgment is that the rocket was launched from within the Gaza Strip, and traveled to the northeast. About 10 seconds after the launch, our conclusion is that the motor combustion became unstable. We can tell that in part based on the fluctuating intensity of the rocket’s plume. About five seconds after that, there is a flash in the video, and our assessment is that that is the rocket motor failing, and about five seconds later, one object hits the ground followed about two seconds later by a second. Our judgment is that the first object that hits the ground was likely the motor from the rocket, and the second shortly thereafter was the warhead," the official said.
"Given the sequence of events we can see in the videos and the geolocation of the launch based on those videos, our conclusion is that there was a catastrophic motor failure that likely occurred, which separated the motor and the warhead. The warhead landed in the hospital compound, and that was the second explosion and the much bigger one," the official said.
The intelligence community assesses with low confidence that the rocket was likely fired by members of the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or PIJ. That assessment is based on Israeli intercepts that have not been publicly released that show different militants on the ground inside Gaza speculating that PIJ might have fired the rocket in question, one intelligence official said.