French intelligence points to a Palestinian rocket, not an Israeli airstrike, in the Gaza hospital explosion

PARIS (AP) — An assessment by French military intelligence points to the most likely cause fatal explosion A Palestinian rocket was found at al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City with an explosive charge of about five kilograms (11 pounds) and possibly misfired, a senior French military official said on Friday.

Several rockets in the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ arsenal carry explosive charges of around that weight, including an Iranian-made rocket and another made by Palestinians, the intelligence official said.

None of their intelligence indicated an Israeli attack, the official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity but was given permission to discuss President Emmanuel Macron’s assessment, in what was described as an attempt to provide transparency about French intelligence findings. The assessment was based on classified information, satellite images, information shared by other countries and open source information, the official said.

The size of the explosion crater in a courtyard of the hospital was estimated by French military intelligence to be about 1 meter (39 in) long, 75 centimeters (29 1/2 in) in diameter and about 30 to 40 centimeters (12 to 16 in) deep.

That corresponds to an explosive charge weighing around five kilograms, the official said. The official said the hole appeared to be slightly aligned on a south-north axis, indicating a projectile that struck at an oblique angle on a south-north trajectory.

Officials in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday quickly blamed an Israeli airstrike for the explosion at the hospital. Israel denied involvement and released live video, audio and other evidence showing the explosion was caused by a misfire of a rocket belonging to Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group. Islamic Jihad denied responsibility.

The death toll remains controversial. Within just over an hour of the explosion, the Hamas-run health ministry said 500 people had died. That number was then revised slightly to 471 on Wednesday, without providing any information about the deaths. The Israeli military told reporters that the number was inflated.

The French military intelligence official simultaneously warned: “I have no certainty,” but said: “We do not see at all that a missile of this size could have caused 471 deaths. This is not possible.”

A US intelligence report estimated that between 100 and 300 Palestinians were likely killed.

Even in Gaza there were conflicting estimates of the number of deaths. Officials at Al-Ahli Hospital said only that the number of victims was in the hundreds, without giving a specific number.

The director general of Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, Mohammed Abu Selmia, said he believed the death toll was closer to 250, based on the number of injured he saw streaming into the triage center. Two witnesses said they believed the number of victims was in the dozens, not the hundreds.

All officials in Gaza said the blast left body parts scattered everywhere, complicating the death count.


Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre contributed to this report.

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