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What new analysis shows about the Gaza hospital explosion

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

There is still a lot we don't know about the blast that killed hundreds of people last week at a hospital in Gaza. Experts and online sleuths have been debating how it happened and who is responsible. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel has been trying to stay on top of it all. He is here with us now. Hey, Geoff.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK, so the basic question - what do we know about what happened at this hospital?

BRUMFIEL: I think it's important to remember we do know a lot. We know hundreds of Palestinians were sheltering in the courtyard of the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza. They thought it was safe. Then just before 7 p.m. local time, a barrage of rockets was fired out of Gaza. And right after that, there's a terrible explosion at the hospital - just horrific carnage...

KELLY: Yeah.

BRUMFIEL: ...And hundreds dead.

KELLY: Absolutely horrific. And then right after that, Hamas claimed it was an Israeli airstrike. They did not present evidence to support that. Israel says it was a failed militant rocket that fell short. Just help us cut through. What does the publicly available evidence support?

BRUMFIEL: Actually, you know, the publicly available evidence is problematic for both versions of this story. So let's start with the Hamas claim of an airstrike. Pretty much everyone agrees - all the experts I've spoken to so far - that the visual evidence doesn't support a standard airstrike. There's no big crater. There's not a lot of shrapnel or structural damage to the hospital, and there's no pieces of shrapnel found at the site. That would be pretty unusual. But, you know, the Israeli claim that it was a failed rocket - there's a problem there, too. Israel says rockets came from the West, and independent video supports that. But the video closest to the blast - you can hear the sound of something whizzing by. That's called a Doppler shift. It's that rise and fall and pitch of something passing you like a car that goes vroom. An NGO called Earshot analyzed that sound and found whatever fell likely came from the east, not the west. Here's their director, Lawrence Abu Hamdan.

LAWRENCE ABU HAMDAN: We're saying that it reduces the probability that this is coming from the West. It's rocket science, after all, so we can't completely rule it out.

BRUMFIEL: And what he means is a misfired rocket could have changed direction and come back and hit the hospital. But the Israeli army needs to explain why this sound seems to point to the opposite direction of the initial rocket fire.

KELLY: So will we ever know? Will we ever know what happened here?

BRUMFIEL: You know, the truth is this was a very complex situation. It was at night. All the experts I spoke to today were doubtful the public evidence will give a straight answer. And I also heard this feeling that the online obsession with pinning blame was maybe a little counterproductive. Marc Garlasco is a former UN war crimes investigator.

MARC GARLASCO: I totally get why people are concerned about this. You know, a lot of people died, and it was a horrible thing. But, man, there's been a lot of people killed since that incident, right?

BRUMFIEL: To be clear, Garlasco doesn't want to drop it. He wants the UN to investigate. But there's so much going on. He thinks other things deserve more attention at this moment.

KELLY: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.
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