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Death toll in Gaza hospital blast greatly exaggerated – foreign intel

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The number of deaths at the Al-Ahli Arab hospital caused by the misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad missile on Wednesday night may have been grossly misrepresented by local sources, according to Thursday reports from a number of independent intelligence sources as well as European news sources.

Local Hamas-run Gazan sources allege that 471 people were killed at the hospital; foreign independent intelligence sources claimed instead that the number was closer to 10-50. 

France’s Le Monde noted in a Thursday analysis that at least 15 lifeless bodies were visible in verified video footage of the area moments after the explosion. Four of those were bodies of infants. 

Open-source intelligence source OSINTtechnical on X (formerly Twitter) analyzed the incident using satellite imagery obtained via SkyWatch satellite. It noted that no clear difference could be discerned in the area around the hospital complex. Specifically, OSINT examined the graveyard from which the projectile was reportedly launched according to an intercepted phone call released by the IDF.

Full imagery, 10/18 on the left, 10/17 (pre-explosion) on the right.The graveyard mentioned in the call released by the IDF can be seen to the west of the hospital complex. No clear differences can be discerned between today and yesterday.

— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) October 19, 2023

In the IDF recording, two Hamas agents discovered that one of their rockets had fallen at the hospital rather than in Israel proper. 

A member of the media walks at the area of Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City, October 18, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED AL-MASRI)

OSINT noted that, based on a preliminary analysis of the images, “there isn’t a ‘smoking gun’ here that can be easily pointed to.”

Both OSINT and Nathan Ruser, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, also evaluated snapshots of the parking lot outside the hospital from before and after the blast. 

Now that day has broken, and we’re getting better evidence, I’m willing to share some PRELIMINARY thoughts on the al-Ahli hospital explosion. The photos of the scene are, to me, not consistent with an airstrike and are not consistent with claims that 500+ people were killed.

— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) October 18, 2023

Ruser stated that, in his opinion, “the photos of the scene are not consistent with claims that 500+ people were killed.”

OSINT surmised that the blast had the worst impact on the displaced persons who were gathered for shelter in the hospital’s courtyard. Between 30-50 of those people were likely killed on Wednesday night. “They took the worst of the blast,” OSINT wrote, “many of their bodies were badly burnt.”

Of note, casualty-wise, I can confirm a number, probably 30-50, IDPs (internally displaced persons) were sheltering on the lawn in the courtyard of the Ahli Hospital in the red highlighted area.They took the worst of the blast, many of their bodies were badly burnt.

— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) October 18, 2023

Ruser noted that within about 10 meters of the impact site, cars appeared largely undamaged. 

Indeed, within 10m of the impact site there are cars which appear mostly undamaged.

— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) October 18, 2023

Finally, according to Reuters citing an unclassified US intelligence report released on Thursday, the death toll is estimated to be “probably at the low end of the 100 to 300 spectrum.” Reuters added that the assessment may evolve. 

Confusion surrounding the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital 

When the explosion occurred at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza on Wednesday night, Gazan authorities pinned responsibility on the IDF. Foreign media outlets as well as international government spokespeople condemned Israsl’s purported attack. 

However, it later came out in an IDF report endorsed by US intelligence officials and other independent intelligence sources that the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad missile fired toward Israel from inside Gaza. 

The primary pieces of evidence supporting this were videos of the missile’s trajectory and the fact that at 6:59 p.m. when the blast occurred, the PIJ had just fired a barrage of rockets toward southern Israel. 

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