Video of the explosion late Tuesday at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza quickly circulated on television and social media, sparking outrage and protests in countries across the region.
But U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking during a visit to Tel Aviv on Wednesday, said U.S. intelligence indicates Israel is not to blame.
“Based on the information we’ve seen to date; it appears as a result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza,” Biden said.
U.S. defense and intelligence officials Wednesday declined to elaborate on the president’s assessment, but said it draws on multiple sources.
The evaluation is “based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information,” said U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, adding that all currently available intelligence points to the same conclusion.
“Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” she said.
Israel itself also has shared evidence that it says exonerates its forces, including what it says is an intercepted audio recording of two Hamas operatives talking about the explosion shortly after it happened.
“They are saying it belongs to Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” one of the operatives says in the recording, according to a translation provided by the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF.
“Is it from us?” asks the second alleged Hamas operative.
The first operative responds, “It looks like it.”
The IDF also released drone video taken of the Ahli Arab Hospital and its surroundings before and after the explosion, showing where a fire ravaged part of the hospital’s parking lot and damage from shrapnel. But the IDF said there is no evidence of a significant crater, which would have been created had the blast been caused by Israeli ordinance.
Some videos and images posted Wednesday on social media, however, do show what might be an impact crater.
“The ground surrounding one side of the crater shows a cone of scarring and pitting, consistent with the explosion of a munition at this site,” according to an initial analysis published by Bellingcat, a fact-checking and open-source intelligence group based in the Netherlands.
“Objects within this cone appear to have suffered extensive damage, including a fence which was largely destroyed by the explosion,” the Bellingcat analysis added.
But Bellingcat also said, “the impact point does not appear to be consistent with the 500, 1,000 or 2,000-pound bombs used in [Israeli] Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs.”
Hamas, which decried the explosion Tuesday as a “crime of genocide that once again reveals the ugly face of this criminal enemy and its fascist and terrorist government,” leveled more criticism at Israel and the U.S. Wednesday.
“The U.S. adoption of the Israeli narrative makes it involved in the Gaza massacres,” the militant group said in a statement, in English, on its Telegram channel Wednesday.
“The U.S. administration’s continued adoption of the Zionist narrative, which is based on lies and false claims, confirms that Washington is blindly biased toward the Israeli occupation,” it said. “This policy also means that the U.S. is a direct partner with the occupation leaders in the massacres committed every minute in the already blockaded Gaza Strip.”
The U.S. had also been bolstering its intelligence gathering capabilities in the region in the days before the explosion at the hospital in Gaza City.
A senior U.S. defense official said last week that the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group was sent to the eastern Mediterranean, in part, because of its ability to carry out intelligence collection.