The US intelligence community assesses that there likely were between 100 to 300 people killed in the blast at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza, and there was “only light structural damage at the hospital,” according to an unclassified intelligence assessment obtained by CNN that adds more detail to the initial assessment released Wednesday finding Israel was not responsible for the strike.
The unclassified assessment sent to Capitol Hill by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence adds more detail to the US intelligence community’s initial assessment released Wednesday that Israel was not responsible for the strike on the hospital.
“Israel Probably Did Not Bomb Gaza Strip Hospital: We judge that Israel was not responsible for an explosion that killed hundreds of civilians yesterday [17 October] at the Al Ahli Hospital in the Gaza Strip,” the assessment states. “Our assessment is based on available reporting, including intelligence, missile activity, and open-source video and images of the incident.”
The US intelligence community also estimates the number of deaths from the hospital at the “low end of the 100-to-300 spectrum,” according to the assessment, a lower number than figures initially cited by Hamas of more than 500.
The intelligence community “observed only light structural damage at the hospital,” with no observable damage to the main hospital building and no impact craters, according to the assessment.
“We see only light damage to the roofs of two structures near the main hospital building, but both structures remained intact,” the assessment states.
The US intelligence community released its initial assessment on Wednesday that Israel was not responsible after President Joe Biden stated publicly while in Israel that the strike appeared to have been “the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza.” Biden is giving a primetime address from the Oval Office on Thursday evening.
The National Security Council has said that the Biden administration plans to publicize as much intelligence as it can about the strike amid accusations that Israel was responsible for the blast.
“We will be sharing that information with our friends and partners in the region we have shared as much of that information as we can publicly,” Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer said on “CNN This Morning” on Thursday.
The assessment states that intelligence indicates that “some Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip assessed that the explosion was likely caused by an errant rocket or missile launch carried out by Palestine Islamic Jihad” and that the militants were still investigating.
“We continue to work to corroborate whether the explosion resulted from a failed PIJ rocket,” the ODNI assessment states.
“We are still assessing the likely casualty figures and our assessment may evolve, but this death toll still reflects a staggering loss of life,” the assessment states. “The United States takes seriously the deaths of all civilians, and is working intensively to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
Finer told CNN that the assessment of the hospital strike was a warning to the danger of drawing conclusions amid the fog of war. “I think this is a cautionary note for governments in the region, and frankly for press, in responding to each and every twist and turn in a conflict,” he said.
The Biden administration has been debating how much raw intelligence to declassify underpinning its assessment that the deadly blast at the Gaza hospital was caused by an errant rocket from a Palestinian militant group — not a missile from Israel, according to a senior administration official.
The White House believes that providing a clearer assessment to the public would be useful in trying to establish a clear and accurate narrative of events, this official said, noting it hasn’t reached a conclusion about how effective raw intelligence would be in that effort.
The debate a reflects growing concern that the US and Israel have lost control of the narrative spiraling out of Gaza that Israel was to blame for those killed in the hospital blast on Tuesday evening.
Former intelligence officials and sources familiar with current US intelligence were skeptical that there was anything the US might make public that would be believed in the Arab world.
“Unfortunately, the narratives have already spread and solidified at this point,” said one US official.
Following a classified Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday afternoon, a bipartisan group of senators urged the Biden administration to make public as much of the intelligence as possible.
“A part of the focus also has to be lowering the temperatures in some of the countries that have had reasonably good relationships with Israel — think Jordan, think Egypt,” Sen. Thom Tillis, Republican from North Carolina, told reporters on Wednesday. “That’s more of the focus now.”