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Gaza Hospital Blast Death Toll Between 100-300, U.S. Officials Estimate

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American intelligence agencies estimate that a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital on Tuesday killed between 100 and 300 people, but cautioned that their assessments could change, according to U.S. officials and an unclassified intelligence assessment.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the latest information, said that the death toll was likely at the low end of that estimate, but still represented a significant loss of life.

The unclassified estimate was made Wednesday evening as U.S. officials worked to determine the cause and casualty toll from the blast. While the estimate still reflects current thinking, intelligence officials have said that they are still collecting and reviewing information on the casualty figures and their “assessment may evolve.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that Israel was not responsible for the explosion at Gaza’s Al Ahli Hospital, based on videos collected by civilians, satellite imagery, missile activity tracked by infrared sensors and other intelligence. But intelligence officials cautioned that they do not fully understand what happened at the hospital and are continuing to collect information. The unclassified intelligence report reflects U.S. officials’ evolving knowledge of the events.

“Israel Probably Did Not Bomb Gaza Strip Hospital,” said the unclassified intelligence assessment drafted on Wednesday. “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 unclassified documents are written in the style of the U.S. spy agencies, full of standard caveats that their understanding of events may change. But U.S. officials on Thursday said their intelligence assessments that Israel was not responsible for the attack had not changed. The officials said there is still much they do not understand about the blast and there is significantly more work to be done to determine what precisely happened.

The United States has infrared sensors, which are both satellite and aircraft based, that can determine the launch sites of a variety of rockets and missiles. That technology has proved critical to the American assessment that Israel was not responsible for the blast at the hospital.

The intelligence agencies have not determined for certain that a Palestinian rocket was responsible for the damage. However, the U.S. spy agencies say Israeli officials have intercepted communications that indicate some militants in Gaza believed the explosion was caused by an errant rocket or missile launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an armed group aligned with Hamas.

U.S. intelligence agencies have reported to the White House and Congress that there was only light structural damage to the hospital following the blast, and no impact craters on the hospital. Two structures near the main hospital took light damage to their roofs, but the structures remained intact.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials said they were looking closely at an explosion next to the hospital in its courtyard or parking lot, to see if that was responsible for some or much of the loss of life.

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