Ottawa rushes to condemn 'attack' on Gaza hospital despite the initial claims coming from Hamas

At the time of Trudeau’s statement, the only details of the explosion had been released by the Hamas-run Gaza ministry of health, and before any Israeli response

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Within hours of a massive explosion hitting a Gaza hospital, members of the Trudeau cabinet were quick to condemn it as an “attack” and an “unacceptable” violation of international law.

But according to the Israel Defense Forces, U.S. intelligence and a number of independent conflict analysts, the explosion was likely the result of a misfired rocket that had originated within Gaza and was intended for Israel.

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By contrast, the implication that it was an Israeli “attack” that killed hundreds — the narrative alluded to by initial press reports and Ottawa’s immediate reactions — had its origins entirely within Hamas.

Around noon on Tuesday, Ottawa time, press reports first began announcing an explosion at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City.

“The news coming out of Gaza is horrific and absolutely unacceptable,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a scrum of reporters on Tuesday. “International humanitarian and international law needs to be respected in this, and in all cases.”

At the time of Trudeau’s statement, the only details of the explosion had been released by the Gaza ministry of health, an agency wholly operated by Hamas. “More than 500 Palestinians were killed during an Israeli bombing,” said a health ministry spokesman, citing a figure that would be swiftly downgraded even by sources within Gaza.

Trudeau didn’t directly blame Israel for the explosion.

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It’s notable, though, that he used the term “international law,” which is frequently appended to official expressions of support for Israel. “Israel has the right to defend itself in accordance with international law,” Trudeau said last week of Israel’s decision to impose an all-out blockade on Gaza until Hamas released Israeli hostages taken on Oct. 7.

Beyond a call that Hamas treat hostages taken in accordance with international law, the term is largely absent from Trudeau’s condemnations of Hamas, which Canada lists as a terrorist group.

Trudeau’s statement also came before Israel had officially answered Hamas’ accusation that its forces were responsible for the explosion. “I don’t know to say whether it was an Israeli airstrike,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told the press in the first hours after the blast.

Only later would the Israeli military conclude that the explosion was caused by a rocket launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group allied with Hamas.

“From the analysis of the operational systems of the IDF, an enemy rocket barrage was carried out towards Israel, which passed in the vicinity of the hospital, when it was hit,” read an IDF statement. The Israelis also released purported audio of an intercepted phone call in which Hamas admits that the explosion was one of “theirs.” “The shrapnel from the missile is local shrapnel and not like Israeli shrapnel,” said one of the voices, attributed to a “Hamas operative.”

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But even when the IDF officially attributed the explosion to a terrorist misfire, Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne characterized the explosion as an “attack.”

“The attack on the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza is horrifying and against international humanitarian law,” Champagne wrote in a Wednesday morning post to (formerly Twitter).

On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden was particularly cautious with his remarks. In a statement released by the White House, Biden said he was “deeply saddened by the explosion … and the terrible loss of life that resulted.” U.S. intelligence services were instructed to get a read on where the blast had come from, and by Wednesday morning, both U.S. military intelligence and the National Security Council had concluded that Israel was likely not involved, with the NSC citing “overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information.”

“Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” was how the U.S. president described the blast in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Several independent researchers have since provided a clue as to the “open source information” the United States may have relied on. Several of these bits of evidence are also contained in an Israeli analysis of what happened. Additionally, the IDF has presented radar showing the flight path of suspected Islamic Jihad rockets directly over the area where the hospital is in Gaza and a map of failed launches from the Gaza Strip.

Satellite image
This image provided by Maxar Technologies on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023 shows an overview of al-Ahli Hospital after explosion in Gaza City. Photo by Satellite image ?2023 Maxar Technologies via AP

GeoConfirmed — an all-volunteer geolocation web group — analyzed multiple videos of the minutes leading up to the explosion, and concluded that the hospital blast occurred immediately after the launch of a barrage of rockets from northern Gaza, during which one of them appeared to break apart shortly after launch.

A similar point-by-point analysis by the U.S.-based conflict researcher Tal Hagin noted that the blast corresponded perfectly with announced rocket launches by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but not with reports of either Israeli shelling or Israeli airstrikes in the general vicinity.

Photos taken in daylight from the site also show minimal damage to hospital structures, with the blast having been contained largely to a parking lot. “There is no significant crater that is visible — one we’d expect from an airstrike by the IDF,” wrote Hagin.

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Hagin concluded that a misfired rocket might have been able to kill hundreds, but only if the parking lot was being used as a gathering place for refugees at the time. Mohammed Abu Selmia, general director of Shifa Hospital — where the wounded from the Tuesday blast were taken — would later tell The Associated Press that he suspected the death toll was closer to 250.

On Wednesday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog accused foreign media of broadcasting a “21st-century blood libel” in repeating Hamas’ initial claims about the hospital explosion.

“Shame on the media who swallow the lies of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — broadcasting a 21st-century blood libel around the globe. Shame on the vile terrorists in Gaza who willfully spill the blood of the innocent,” he said.

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Originally posted 2023-10-18 20:15:26.