Destroyed vehicles at the site of the Ahli Arab hospital
Destroyed vehicles at the site of the Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City AFP

The US intelligence community has estimated there were likely 100 to 300 people killed in the strike at the Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, according to excerpts of a document seen Thursday by AFP -- far fewer than the nearly 500 deaths that health authorities in the Hamas-ruled enclave originally described.

An unclassified US intelligence assessment, provided to AFP by a Capitol Hill source, estimates the number of people killed at the hospital Tuesday night at the "low end of the 100-to-300 spectrum."

"We are still assessing the likely casualty figures and our assessment may evolve, but this death toll still reflects a staggering loss of life," the document said.

"The United States takes seriously the deaths of all civilians, and is working intensively to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," the document said.

The strike occurred at around 1700 GMT Tuesday, when the health ministry in Gaza said an Israeli air strike had hit the Christian-run Ahli Arab hospital in central Gaza City.

Gaza officials have said at least 471 people were killed in the blast, with more than 300 wounded.

Hamas has accused an Israeli air strike for the killings, while Israeli army has blamed a misfired rocket from another Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad.

According to the US intelligence document, "Israel probably did not bomb (the) Gaza Strip hospital," and that the United States is continuing "to work to corroborate whether the explosion resulted from a failed PIJ (Palestine Islamic Jihad) rocket."

The document also says there was "only light structural damage at the hospital," with "no observable damage to the main hospital building and no impact craters."

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

Bloodstains and torched cars could be seen in the hospital courtyard.

Images of the hospital after the strike published by the Maxar satellite monitoring group show the hospital buildings mainly appeared to be intact.

Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus has also disputed the Hamas-run ministry's figures, asking "where are all the bodies?"

Hamas has dismissed Israel's position, saying its "outrageous lies do not deceive anyone."

The United States' death toll estimate is higher than the 50 people that a senior European intelligence source previously told AFP he believed had been killed.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has said there is "no excuse for hitting a hospital full of civilians" in Gaza, but has not apportioned blame for the blast.

Gaza has been hit by a relentless barrage of Israeli fire in retaliation for a Hamas militant attack on October 7, which Israel says killed at least 1,400 people, most of them civilians.

Israeli bombing since has killed at least 3,785 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas health ministry.

Tens of thousands of families have sought refuge from the bombardment in and around Gaza's overwhelmed hospitals.