UN admits Gaza death toll wrong, with almost 50% fewer women, children killed than

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JERUSALEM – In a dramatic shift, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has revised its data pertaining to the number of Palestinian casualties in the seven-month-old Gaza war, reducing almost by half the number of women and children it previously said were killed in the hostilities between Israel and the Iranian-backed terror group Hamas.

According to an infographic published in OCHA’s daily report on May 6, the number of women killed in the fighting was said to be 9,500, while the organization, which admits to relying on figures from the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza, claimed that 14,500 children had been killed since the war began on Oct. 7.

Two days later, in its May 8 report, the UN agency appeared to have cut the number nearly in half, showing instead that some 4,959 women and 7,797 children had been killed so far in the war, which began after thousands of Hamas-led terrorists infiltrated southern Israel from Gaza, slaughtering more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking some 240 people hostage.

While the numbers on both sides remain high – the overall death count in Gaza is said by the Hamas-controlled ministry of health to have almost reached 35,000, with more believed to be buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings – the sudden and unexplained change in numbers is alarming. 

Hamas’ death toll figures have been disputed by Israel, which claims more than a third of those killed are combatants, yet they have been widely and unquestioningly quoted by the international media, humanitarian organizations and world leaders, including President Biden

Smoke rising from buildings in Rafah after an Israeli strike on May 13, 2024. AFP via Getty Images

They have also been used as the basis to question whether the Israeli army may have violated international humanitarian law and to accuse the Israeli government of committing genocide, or, at the very least, of deliberately targeting civilians.

he Israelis estimate that around 14,000 terrorists have been killed since the fighting in Gaza began.

President Biden, in his State of the Union address in March, quoted Hamas’s numbers, which at the time stood at 30,000.

He also used the unverified data to commission a State Department inquiry into Israel’s conduct, resulting in a report that was published on Friday. 

The findings of the National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20), however, remained inconclusive, noting that while there were reasonable grounds to assess that Israel had “used US supplied weapons in instances that were inconsistent with its international obligations,” there was no outright evidence that Israel had violated the law.

When asked to explain the sudden change in their statistics, Farhan Aziz Haq, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told Fox News Digital that the breakdowns were based on data from the Ministry of Health in Gaza, and that those figures “can vary based on their own verification process that they undertake.”

Palestinian children walking by destroyed buildings in Khan Younis on May 13, 2024. Rizek Abdeljawad/Xinhua via ZUMA Press

“The United Nations teams on the ground in Gaza are unable to independently verify those figures given the prevailing situation on the ground and the sheer volume of fatalities,” the spokesman said. “It is for this reason that all figures used by the UN clearly cite the Health Ministry in Gaza as the source.”

The spokesman said that the UN, which also uses the unverified numbers to formulate its policies and agenda, would only be able to “verify these figures to the extent possible when conditions permit.”

“Israel has repeatedly said the numbers coming out of Gaza and which are being echoed by UN agencies are being manipulated by Hamas, are not accurate, and do not reflect the reality on the ground,” an Israeli official told Fox News Digital. 

The official said Israel was still waiting for OCHA to acknowledge that an incident at a hospital early on in the war that killed nearly 100 civilians was actually caused by an errant rocket fired by one of the Gaza terror groups and to recognize that Hamas uses UN infrastructure for its terror activities. 

“All of these are consistently ignored in OCHA’s reports,” the official said. 

“Parroting Hamas propaganda messages without any verification process has proven time and again as methodologically flawed and unprofessional,” the official added. “We urge the international community to use more than a grain of salt when evaluating OCHA reports.”

David Adesnik, a senior fellow and director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies who has been tracking the death toll data closely since Oct. 7, told Fox News Digital that while early on in the war the claim that Hamas’ figures could be accepted because in previous conflicts they were fairly accurate, the current chaos in the Palestinian enclave and the total collapse of the health system there has made counting the dead and verifying Hamas’ reports impossible. 

“UN agencies have consistently shown they prefer to trust the numbers coming out of Hamas-controlled sources rather than doing basic due diligence,” he said, adding that the UN’s sudden revision last week of the death toll most likely indicated that “even Hamas-controlled sources have begun admitting that their numbers are based on incomplete data.” 

“They [Hamas] don’t even have the names of more than 10,000 of the individuals they count as dead,” Adesnik said.

Palestinian women and children evacuating from Rafah on May 13, 2204. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The change by the UN, he said, was “a step forward for the UN, even though it still has a long way to go, as do Western journalists, who are often the most vocal defenders of the numbers from Hamas-controlled sources.”

In a previous interview with Fox News Digital, John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies Modern War Institute at West Point and an author of multiple books on the subject of urban warfare, said that in contrast to claims from Western leaders, including Biden, the “steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties is historic in comparison to all these other wars.” 

“Despite the numbers, Israel is setting the bar very high on civilian harm mitigation steps,” Spencer, who is also host of the Urban Warfare Project podcast and serves as the chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the New York-based Madison Policy Forum, told Fox News Digital in February. 

He outlined how the Israeli military took measures that no other military, including the US, had previously taken during war such as calling and texting individuals to warn them of a forthcoming air strike and sharing maps with plans for military maneuvers in certain areas. 

Biden, last week, threatened to halt some armaments deliveries to Israel if it decides to launch a full scale military offensive in the Strip’s southernmost city of Rafah, a maneuver Israel says is essential in order to wipe out the remaining Hamas battalions and end the war. 

In reaction to reports, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz called for the resignation of the United Nations Secretary General in a tweet on X.

“… Anyone who relies on fake data from a terrorist organization in order to promote blood libels against Israel is antisemitic and supports terrorism.” Adding “Antonio Guterres, resign!”

Situated on the border with Egypt, Israel believes that most of Hamas’ top leadership is hiding in Rafah, shielded by more than 1.4 million civilians, many of whom fled the fighting in other parts of the Palestinian enclave. Israel also believes that many of the remaining 132 hostages are being held there. 

Over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces said it had begun precise military operations in the area of eastern Rafah, after urging more than 300,000 Gazans to move into humanitarian safe zones away from the fighting.

On Sunday, the army said in a statement that its troops operating in Rafah had located and dismantled a number of tunnel shafts and rocket launchers, which were used to fire towards Israel, including the crossing used to transport humanitarian aid into the Strip.



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