UN says Gaza death toll still over 35,000 but not all bodies identified

UN says Gaza death toll still over 35,000 but not all bodies identified

Two recent articles explain why the death statistics for Gaza changed recently. While Israel tried to use this change to discredit the statistics, in reality it simply resulted from the massive numbers of people Israel has killed, and the time it takes to identify each mutilated body… (Israel also previously changed its own numbers*)

The statistics for Palestinians killed are most likely an undercount, not an overcount…

by Michelle Nichols and Emma Farge, reposted from Reuters, May 13, 2024

The death toll in the Gaza Strip from the Israel-Gaza war is still more than 35,000, but the enclave’s Ministry of Health has updated its breakdown of the fatalities, the United Nations said on Monday after Israel questioned a sudden change in numbers.

U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said the ministry’s figures – cited regularly by the U.N. its reporting on the seven-month-long conflict – now reflected a breakdown of the 24,686 deaths of “people who have been fully identified.”

“There’s about another 10,000 plus bodies who still have to be fully identified, and so then the details of those – which of those are children, which of those are women – that will be re-established once the full identification process is complete,” Haq told reporters in New York.

Israeli accusation

Israel last week questioned why the figures for the deaths of women and children has suddenly halved.

Haq said those figures were for identified bodies – 7,797 children, 4,959 women, 1,924 elderly, and 10,006 men – adding: “The Ministry of Health says that the documentation process of fully identifying details of the casualties is ongoing.”

Oren Marmorstein, spokesperson for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Monday accused Palestinian militants Hamas of manipulating the numbers, saying: “They are not accurate and they do not reflect the reality on the ground.”

“The parroting of Hamas’ propaganda messages without the use of any verification process has proven time and again to be methodologically flawed and unprofessional,” he said in a social media post.

Gaza MoH has plenty of experience in body counting

Haq said U.N. teams in Gaza were not able to independently verify the Gaza Ministry of Health (MoH) figures given the ongoing war and sheer number of fatalities.

“Unfortunately we have the sad experience of coordinating with the Ministry of Health on casualty figures every few years for large mass casualty incidents in Gaza, and in past times their figures have proven to be generally accurate,” Haq said.

The World Health Organization “has a long-standing cooperation with the MoH in Gaza and we can attest that MoH has good capacity in data collection/analysis and its previous reporting has been considered credible,” said WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris.

“Real numbers could be even higher,” she said.

Gaza death toll: how many Palestinians has Israel’s campaign killed

by Angus McDowall and others, reposted from Reuters, May 14, 2024

The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants stormed across the border into Israeli communities. Israel says the militants killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and dragged 253 into captivity in Gaza. [More information here.]

This explainer examines how the Palestinian death toll is calculated, how reliable it is, the breakdown of civilians and fighters killed and what each side says.

How Do Gaza Health Authorities Calculate The Death Toll?

In the first months of the war, death tolls were calculated entirely from counting bodies that arrived in hospitals and data included names and identity numbers for most of those killed.

As the conflict ground on, and fewer hospitals and morgues continued to operate, the authorities adopted other methods too.

A May 7 Health Ministry report gave an overall toll of 34,844. It said 21,058 of those deaths were counted from bodies that hospitals reported arriving at morgues. Another 3,715 were deaths reported online by family members who had to input information including identity numbers.

It listed the remaining 10,071 deaths as having “incomplete data”. Omar Hussein Ali, head of the ministry’s emergency operations centre in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said these were bodies that had arrived at hospitals or medical centers without personal data such as identity numbers or full names.

Is The Gaza Death Toll Comprehensive?

The numbers “do not necessarily reflect all victims due to the fact that many victims are still missing under the rubble”, the Palestinian Health Ministry says. In May it estimated that some 10,000 bodies were uncounted in this way.

The U.N. human rights office and the Humanitarian Research Lab at the Yale School of Public Health have also said during the conflict that the true figures are likely higher than those published.

How Credible Is The Gaza Death Toll?

Pre-war Gaza had robust population statistics and better health information systems than in most Middle East countries, public health experts told Reuters.

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization said the ministry has “good capacity in data collection/analysis and its previous reporting has been considered credible”.

The United Nations regularly cites the ministry’s death toll figures, while naming the ministry as the source.

Early in the conflict, after U.S. President Joe Biden cast doubt on casualty figures, the health ministry published a detailed list of the 7,028 deaths that had been registered by that point.

Academics looking at details of listed casualties said in a peer-reviewed article in the Lancet medical journal in November that it was implausible that the patterns shown in the list could be the result of fabrication.

However, there are specific questions over the inclusion of 471 people said to have been killed in an Oct. 17 blast at al-Ahli al-Arab hospital in Gaza City. An unclassified U.S. intelligence report estimated that death toll “at the low end of the 100 to 300 spectrum”.

Does Hamas Control The Figures?

While Hamas has run Gaza since 2007, the enclave’s Health Ministry also answers to the overall Palestinian Authority ministry in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Gaza’s Hamas-run government has paid the salaries of all those hired in public departments since 2007, including in the Health Ministry. The Palestinian Authority still pays the salaries of those hired before then.

The extent of Hamas control in Gaza now is difficult to assess with Israeli forces occupying most of the territory, including around locations of major hospitals that provide casualty figures, and with fighting ongoing.

What Does Israel Say?

Israeli officials have said the figures are suspect because of Hamas’ control over government in Gaza. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oren Mamorstein said the numbers were manipulated and “do not reflect the reality on the ground”.

However, Israel’s military has also accepted in briefings that the overall Gaza casualty numbers are broadly reliable.

Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 14,000 Hamas fighters and 16,000 Palestinian civilians had been killed in the war.

How Many Civilians Have Been Killed?

The Health Ministry figures do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas combatants, who do not wear formal uniform or carry separate identification.

Israel periodically provides estimates of how many Hamas fighters it believes have been killed. The most recent was Netanyahu’s estimate of 14,000.

Israeli security officials say such estimates are reached through a combination of counting bodies on the battlefield, intercepts of Hamas communications and intelligence assessments of personnel in targets that were destroyed.

Hamas has said Israeli estimates for its losses are exaggerated but has not said how many of its fighters have been killed.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says more than 70% of the dead are women and children under 18. For most of the conflict its figures showed children as representing slightly over 40% of all those killed.

However, conditions in hospitals compiling figures have worsened amid the fighting and many of those killed may not be identifiable due to their injuries.

In May the ministry updated its breakdown of the fatalities to be based only on the 24,686 bodies it said had been fully identified, and not on the more-than 10,000 bodies it said have not yet been identified.

When it made this change, the numbers appeared significantly less, prompting Israel to raise further questions over the figures.

[*Israel itself has also changed its own numbers. While Israel originally claimed that 1,400 Israelis had been killed on October 7th and implied that all were civilians, it later changed this to about 1,140 people; hundreds of them Israeli soldiers, and an untold number killed by Israeli soldiers in friendly fire incidents.]

Compiled by Emma Farge, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ali Sawafta and James MacKenzie, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Gareth Jones


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