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Gaza War: How Many Palestinians Have Israel’s Attacks Killed?

Palestinian health officials say Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza has killed more than 38,000 people, mostly civilians, and driven most of the territory’s 2.3 million inhabitants from their homes.

The war began on October 7 when Hamas militants stormed across the border into Israeli communities. Israel says the militants have killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taken 253 into captivity in Gaza.

This article looks at how the Palestinian death toll is calculated, how reliable it is, the distribution of civilians and combatants killed, and what each side says.

How do Gaza authorities calculate the death toll?

In the early months of the war, the death toll was calculated entirely from body counts arriving at hospitals, and the data included names and ID numbers of most of the dead.

As the conflict progressed and fewer hospitals and morgues remained operational, authorities also adopted other methods.

Since early May, the Health Ministry has updated its analysis of total fatalities to include unidentified bodies, which account for nearly a third of the total.

Omar Hussein Ali, head of the ministry’s emergency operations center in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said these were bodies that arrived at hospitals or medical centers without personal data such as ID numbers or full names.

The count also began including deaths reported virtually by family members who had to enter information including social security numbers.

Is the Gaza death toll complete?

The figures “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 was estimated that around 10,000 bodies were not counted in this way.

The Lancet medical journal published a letter from three academics on July 5 estimating that indirect deaths, caused by factors such as disease, could mean the death toll is many times higher than official Palestinian estimates.

The letter said it was “not implausible to estimate that up to 186,000 or more deaths could be attributed to the current conflict in Gaza.”

The authors said the figure, which made global headlines, was based on what they said was a conservative estimate of four indirect deaths to one direct death based on trends from previous conflicts.

The UN human rights office and the Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab also said during the conflict that the real numbers were likely higher than those published, without giving details.

How reliable is the Gaza death toll?

Before the war, Gaza had robust population statistics and better health information systems than most Middle Eastern countries, public health experts told Reuters.

A World Health Organization spokesperson said the ministry had “good data collection/analysis capabilities and its previous reports were considered reliable.”

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

At the start of the conflict, after US President Joe Biden cast doubt on the casualty figures, the Health Ministry published a detailed list of the 7,028 deaths that had been recorded up to that point.

Academics analyzing details of the listed victims said in a peer-reviewed paper 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 about the inclusion of 471 people who were reportedly killed in an October 17 explosion at al-Ahli al-Arab hospital in Gaza City.

An unclassified US intelligence report estimated the death toll to be “on the lower end of the spectrum of 100 to 300.”

Does Hamas control the numbers?

Although Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, the territory’s health ministry also reports to the Palestinian Authority’s ministry general in Ramallah in the West Bank.

The Hamas-run Gaza government has paid the salaries of all contractors in public departments since 2007, including the Health Ministry. The Palestinian Authority still pays the salaries of contractors before that.

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

What does Israel say?

Israeli officials said the numbers were suspicious because of Hamas’s control over the government in Gaza.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Oren Mamorstein said the figures were manipulated and “do not reflect the reality on the ground.”

However, the Israeli military has also accepted in briefings that the overall casualty figures in Gaza are largely reliable.

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

How many civilians were killed?

The Health Ministry figures do not distinguish between civilians and Hamas fighters, who do not wear formal uniforms 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 derived through a combination of battlefield body counts, intercepts of Hamas communications and intelligence assessments of personnel at targets that have been destroyed.

Hamas said Israeli estimates of its losses were exaggerated, but did not say how many of its fighters were killed.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says more than 70 percent of those killed are women and children. For most of the conflict, its figures showed that children accounted for just over 40 percent of all deaths.

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

Source: CNN Brasil

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