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Account impersonating Al Jazeera journalist spreads unverified hospital strike claims

Account impersonating Al Jazeera journalist spreads unverified hospital strike claims - Featured image

Author(s): Gwen Roley / AFP Canada

Amid disputes between Israel and Hamas over a deadly October 17, 2023 strike on a hospital in the Gaza Strip, posts claim a purported Al Jazeera journalist confirmed on social media that the Palestinian Islamist movement was behind the blast. But the account is an imposter, the news outlet told AFP — and the origin of the explosion could not immediately be independently verified.

“Journalist at Al Jazeera ! Confirms Hamas fired the rocket !” says Steve Maman, a Canadian businessman and president of the nonprofit Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq, in an October 17 Facebook post sharing a screenshot from X, formerly known as Twitter.

The image shows a post from a supposed Al Jazeera journalist named Farida Khan saying she has footage proving Hamas fired a rocket that hit the Ahli Arab hospital.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken October 20, 2023

The claim spread to Facebook and Instagram more than a week after Hamas gunmen stormed across the border from Gaza into Israel and carried out the deadliest attack since the country was created in 1948.

Israeli authorities say Hamas fighters killed more than 1,400 people and took some 220 hostages. The country responded by declaring war and relentlessly pounding Gaza with aerial bombardments, killing 5,791 people as of October 24 — mostly civilians, according to the Hamas government’s Ministry of Health.

International alarm over the resulting humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory intensified after the ministry reported an Israeli air strike had hit the Christian-run Ahli Arab hospital in central Gaza City. Israel denied it was responsible, pinning the blame on a misfired rocket aimed at Israeli territory by the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

However, no definitive conclusions about the source of the blast could be drawn in the immediate aftermath — and Al Jazeera said on X that the Farida Khan account does not belong to any of its employees (archived here).

“The X/ Twitter account @_Faridakhan in question has no connection to Al Jazeera and falsely claimed an affiliation with our organization,” the Qatari news outlet confirmed to AFP in an October 23 email.

While the account appears to have deleted the post in question, screenshots from the imposter profile continue to circulate on Instagram and Facebook.

Hospital strike in dispute

Uncertainty persists about both the source and death toll of the strike at the Ahli Arab hospital.

The Gaza health ministry said at least 471 people had been killed in the blast and more than 300 wounded, some in critical condition. But the US intelligence community has estimated there were likely 100 to 300 people killed in the strike, and a senior European intelligence source told AFP he believed the death toll was 50 at most.

AFP correspondents saw dozens of bodies at the scene, with medics and civilians recovering bodies wrapped in white cloth, blankets or black plastic bags.

Drone footage from the day after the blast showed a makeshift mortuary and damage to the parking lot of the hospital with cars burnt out. The buildings’ windows were shattered but appeared otherwise minimally damaged.

Analysts interviewed by AFP were cautious to make any assertion about the origin of the strike, given the lack of independent investigation. But they pointed out that bombs dropped from airplanes usually leave buildings gutted or completely destroyed.

Governments are also divided over who to blame for the strike.

US President Joe Biden, Canada’s Minister of National Defence and France’s Directorate of Military Intelligence have said they do not believe Israel was behind the blast. Meanwhile, Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — as well as the wider Muslim world — have overwhelmingly backed Hamas’s account of the hospital deaths, expressing outrage at Israeli strikes on civilian populations.

More of AFP’s reporting on misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war is available here.

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Originally published here.