Hamas says airstrike killed 500 – but pictures from scene cast doubt on claim

Hamas’ claims that 500 people were killed in an airstrike on a hospital in Gaza on Tuesday, they blame on Israel, are not backed up by photographs take at the scene, an expert has said.

Nathan Ruser shared his thoughts via X, formerly Twitter, in the aftermath of the tragedy, which Israel vehemently denies responsibilty for and has instead blamed a failed rocket allegedly fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

And while not speculating on who was behind the attack, he cast doubt on the narrative being pushed by Gaza militants.

Mr Ruser, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre, based his tentative conclusives on publicly available imagery and footage.

In a lengthy series of posts, he said: “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.

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“The photos of the scene are, to me, not consistent with an airstrike and are not consistent with claims that 500+ people were killed.”

Emphasising that he had not conducted a “forensic or expert investigation”, Mr Ruser nevertheless stressed: “Photos of the aftermath show that the vast majority of the damage is from fire.

“Only three cars show any clear sign of kinnetic/structural damage. And for two of them, the general structure remains intact – despite clear damage.

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

This lack of structural damage to most cars was also clear in IDF-released drone fotage from less than two hours after the blast, he stressed.

Additionally, footage from ground level showed “essentially no crater”.

He also highlighted damage to roofs between 30 and 45 metres away from the impact site which he said was “consistent with an object that broke apart in midair, though I wouldn’t view this point as conclusively as others”.

He added: “Compare the damage from photos of rocket impacts in Ashkelon from last weekend. The only real difference is that this explosion appears to have involved more accelerant (which would track with reporting that this barrage was aimed at Tel Aviv).”

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Turning his attention to the death toll claimed by Hamas, Mr Ruser said:”I am not doubting that civilians were killed, videos show the bodies collected in the hospital courtyard and I have no reason to doubt that.

“But 500 is an incredibly high number, honestly implausible. Overlaying the area of damage on Google Earth – keep in mind this is mostly from burning cars NOT the explosion – it is 228m2.

“None of this absolves the IDF from the countless civilians it has killed in this aerial campaign. There is no excuse for the degree of civilian casualties that the IDF considers acceptable, nor of the siege tactics. And no one can deny the extent of devestation brought to Gaza.

“But it seems extremely clear to me, that much (most (all)) of the initial reporting and discussion surrounding this explosion was inaccurate. The discourse and the reaction has quickly overtaken the facts and now it seems that the facts don’t really matter.”

Speaking at a briefing yesterday, Dr Patricia M Lewis, who leads the International Security programme at Chatham House, said experts would now be poring over all the available evidence in a bid to establish what had happend.

She said: “Anyone looking to ascertain where this explosion came from would look at a number of things.

“There would be what we call ‘pre-blast signatures’. One of those would be for example missile flights and they would be monitored through radar, they would be monitored from the ground, from visuals, and they would be monitored as well from the air and from aircraft.”

Dr Lewis, who likewise did not speculate on who was to blame, continued: “If it were an aircraft, an airplane with a bomb, that dropped then that would also be a part of the visual signature.

“You would also have records that would come from the place which the aircraft took off, any flight plans that were filed and any recordings from the cockpit could be submitted in evidence.

“You would also have ground views and videos, eyewitness accounts, all of which add into the whole picture.”

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