The Palestinian Ministry of Health says that more than 70 percent of the dead are women and children. (file)


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

The fighting began on October 7 when Hamas operatives crossed the border into Israeli communities. Israel says the operatives killed more than 1,200 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, and imprisoned 253 in Gaza.

This explainer examines how Palestinian casualties are counted, how reliable it is, the number of civilians and fighters killed and what each side says.

How do Gaza health officials calculate the death count?

In the first months of the war, the death toll was calculated entirely by counting the bodies arriving at hospitals, and the data included the names and identification numbers of most of the dead.

As the conflict deepened, and fewer hospitals and morgues operated, authorities took other approaches.

Since early May, the health ministry updated its breakdown of casualties to include unidentified bodies, which account for about a third of the total deaths. Omar Hussein Ali, head of the ministry’s emergency operations center in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said the bodies arrived at hospitals or medical centers without personal data such as identification numbers or full names.

This includes deaths reported online by family members who had to enter information including identification numbers.

Is Gaza’s death toll comprehensive?

The Palestinian Ministry of Health says the number “does not necessarily reflect all victims due to the fact that many victims are still missing under the rubble”. In May it was estimated that around 10,000 bodies were thus unaccounted for.

The Lancet medical journal published a letter by three academics on July 5 that estimates that indirect deaths from factors such as disease mean many times more than official Palestinian estimates.

“It is not implausible to estimate that up to 186,000 or more deaths could be caused by the current conflict in Gaza,” the letter said.

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 in previous conflicts.

The United Nations Human Rights Office and the Humanitarian Research Lab at the Yale School of Public Health have also said during the controversy that the actual figure is likely higher than the published figures, without elaborating.

How credible are the casualties in Gaza?

Public health experts told Reuters that before the war, Gaza had strong population statistics and better health information systems than most countries in the Middle East.

A World Health Organization spokesperson said the ministry had “good data collection/analysis capacity and its past reporting is considered credible”.

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

Early in the controversy, after US President Joe Biden cast doubt on the death toll, the Ministry of Health published a detailed list of the 7,028 deaths that had been recorded so far.

The academics, considering the details of the listed deaths, 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 about the 471 people who died in the October 17 blast at al-Ahli al-Arab Hospital in Gaza City. An unclassified US intelligence report estimated the death toll at “the low end of the 100 to 300 spectrum”.

Does Hamas control the data?

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

Since 2007, the Hamas-run government of Gaza has paid the salaries of all employees in government departments, including the Ministry of Health. The Palestinian Authority still pays the salaries of those it hired before.

The extent of Hamas’ control in Gaza is difficult to gauge now that Israeli forces have captured much of the territory, including areas around major hospitals that provide casualty figures, and fighting continues.

What does Israel say?

Israeli officials have said the figures are suspect because of Hamas’ control of the government in Gaza. Foreign Ministry spokesman Oren Memorstein said the numbers have been manipulated and do not reflect the reality on the ground.

However, the Israeli military also admitted in the briefing that the total number of casualties in Gaza is largely reliable.

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

How many civilians have been killed?

The Health Ministry figures do not distinguish between civilians and Hamas fighters, who do not wear formal uniforms or have separate identities.

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 from battlefield body counts, Hamas communications and personnel intelligence assessments of destroyed targets.

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

The Palestinian Ministry of Health says that more than 70 percent of the dead are women and children. Its figures for most conflicts show children making up just over 40 percent of those killed.

However, conditions at the hospitals compiling the data have deteriorated during the fighting and many of the dead may not be identifiable due to their injuries.

(Other than the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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