JERUSALEM: The Israeli military on Wednesday has denied involvement in an explosion that killed hundreds of people at a Gaza City hospital and that the blast was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, has blamed the blast on Israel. But Israel said it was a result of a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another militant group in the enclave.
In an English-language briefing, chief Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said an investigation had “confirmed that there was no IDF (Israel Defense Forces) fire from the land, sea or air that hit the hospital.”
He said there was no structural damage to buildings around the Al-Ahli Al-Arabi hospital and no craters consistent with an air strike.
“The evidence – which we are sharing with you all – confirms that the explosion at the hospital in Gaza was caused by an Islamic Jihad rocket that misfired,” Hagari said.
“Our radar system tracked missiles fired by terrorists in Gaza at the time of the explosion and the trajectory analysis of the rockets shows the rockets were fired in close proximity to the hospital.”
Asked to explain the size of the explosion at the site, Hagari said it was consistent with unspent rocket fuel catching fire. “Most of this damage would have been done due to the propellant, not just the warhead,” he said.
Hagari also accused Hamas of inflating the number of casualties from the explosion and said it could not know as quickly as it claimed what had caused the blast.
The death toll from the hospital explosion was by far the highest of any single incident in Gaza during the current violence, triggering protests in the occupied West Bank and in the wider region, including in Jordan and Turkiye.
Hagari said some 450 rockets fired from Gaza had fallen short and landed inside the Strip within the last 11 days.
“We have intelligence about communication between terrorists talking about rockets misfiring,” Hagari said, without elaborating.
Islamic Jihad earlier denied Israel’s claim that it was behind the deadly blast at Al-Ahli hospital. It accused Israel of “trying hard to evade responsibility for the brutal massacre it committed.”
“The accusations promoted by the enemy are baseless,” Islamic Jihad said, adding that the group “does not use places of worship or public facilities, especially hospitals, as military centers or weapons stores.”
The group said details such as “the angle of the bomb’s fall and the extent of destruction it left behind” confirm it was similar to Israeli strikes.
Islamic Jihad is a smaller, more radical Palestinian militant group that often cooperates with Hamas in their shared struggle against Israel.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to offer condolences over a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital and voice support for Palestinians’ “legitimate aspirations,” the State Department said Wednesday.
Blinken, who was in Amman on a regional tour, spoke late Tuesday by telephone with Abbas “to express profound condolences for the civilian lives lost in the explosion” at the Gaza hospital, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.