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A bustling food market in Rafah, Gaza on March 6, 2024. Video.

UN cuts Gaza death count after Hamas admits inflating numbers

The United Nations now says that “the fog of war” is to blame for a major overstatement of the number of Gazans who have been killed in the war. The new stance comes after Hamas admitted it has been inflating its death count by almost 45 percent.

The admissions have not been acknowledged by the Biden administration, which used the inflated Hamas numbers as a reason to withhold vital military aid from Israel. As late as Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued to allege, without proof, Israel was disproportionately killing Gaza women and children.

In mid-March, the U.N. Children’s Fund alleged that 13,450 children had been killed in Gaza, citing figures from the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry. Ters were discredited at the time by statisticians who said they were numerically impossible. But still, Catherine Russell, the director of UNICEF, said in a television interview on March 17 that those numbers were “staggering” and “really shocking.”

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“We haven’t seen that rate of death among children in almost any other conflict in the world,” Russell claimed at the time.

The statistic continues to be cited in the international press, and the Biden administration, leading to accusations that Israel had committed war crimes, including targeting babies and children intentionally.

But last week, with little news coverage, Hamas admitted that those numbers turn out to be off by at least 40%. The United Nations quietly revised its numbers without providing an explanation.

“When it comes to Israel, it’s clear that the U.N.’s goal is not accuracy, but rather to immediately seize on any report, no matter how unsubstantiated or even manifestly false, in order to portray Israel as malevolent,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, told JNS.

“The right thing for the U.N. to do now would be to admit that their casualty count in Gaza is a complete failure,” Neuer added.

Last Wednesday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released updated casualty figures. Some 7,797 Gazan children had died in the war as of April 30, it said—a roughly 42% drop from the mid-March numbers.

It also revised its casually figures for women by nearly a half—from more than 9,500 to fewer than 5,000.

In a little-noticed change, OCHA differentiated in its new figures between “reported” and “identified” fatalities, including the 7,797 children figure in the “identified” category.

Using OCHA’s math, out of 10,158 reported but unidentified casualties, 5,653 (56%) would have to be children to add up to the figures published in mid-March. That would be far more than is indicated by the information the United Nations released last week, which claims that children make up 32% of the identified deaths in Gaza.

JNS asked Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, at a press conference on Friday why the math doesn’t add up.

“The revisions are taken … you know, of course, in the fog of war, it’s difficult to come up with numbers,” Haq told JNS. “We get numbers from different sources on the ground, and then we try to cross check them. As we cross check them, we update the numbers, and we’ll continue to do that as that progresses.”

Salo Aizenberg, an independent scholar and author and HonestReporting board member, told JNS that “It’s absolutely true that the fog of war makes it difficult to assess casualties, but this was the case from the beginning of the war.”

“It’s outrageous that only seven months later, the U.N. is questioning the Hamas-supplied casualty numbers,” he said.

In early April, the Hamas-operated Gaza Health Ministry admitted it had “incomplete data” for 11,371 of the 33,091 Palestinian fatalities it claimed to have documented at the time. The ministry later said it did not have names for more than 10,000 of the Gazans it claimed were killed in the war.

As recently as last month, Hamas repeated claims, which are then repeated in Western media and the Biden administration, that 70% of the deceased were women and children.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy also released a report in January showing major discrepancies in the fatality reports, concluding they were most likely caused by manipulation.

“While it’s better late than never that the U.N. finally admits that the casualty numbers issued by Hamas for the last 200 days are not reliable, the false data has infiltrated everywhere,” Aizenberg told JNS.

He cited U.S. President Joe Biden’s claim in his March 7 State of the Union address that “more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed.”

The U.S. State and Defense Departments have also used that statistic officially, apparently relying on Hamas data.

Neuer told JNS that “If U.N. officials continue to legitimize a Hamas-run system that has now proven itself to be completely false, they will be complicit with terrorist propaganda.”

The revised Hamas casualty numbers, taken together with Israel Defense Forces claims of terrorists killed—a distinction Hamas does not make—“demonstrate that the civilian/casualty rate in Gaza is likely 1:1 or lower, which would amount to the lowest ratio in the history of urban combat, starkly contradicting any notion of indiscriminate IDF attacks,” Aizenberg told JNS.

JNS asked Haq on Friday if U.N. figures can be considered reliable.

“You can consider them reliable from the fact that we’re continually checking them,” he said. “We’ll continue to do that over the course of the war. But the numbers, you know, ultimately have to be regularly checked so that we can be sure that what we’re putting out is valid.”

In Jan. 2014, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced it had stopped updating the death toll from Syria’s civil war, as it could no longer verify the sources of information.

–JNS.org with wire services

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