WHO 'confident' in Gaza death figures as toll passes 35,000

UN says about half a million civilians are displaced in the enclave, as Israeli military presses on with war

Gazan volunteers search for survivors among the rubble after an Israeli attack on Nuseirat camp. AFP
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The World Health Organisation said it has full confidence in the death toll figures issues from Gaza's health authorities, after Israel questioned a change in the numbers.

Health officials in the enclave last week updated a breakdown of the total number of deaths from more than seven months of war since Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on October 7.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published the Palestinian figures, quoting Gaza's Health Ministry as the source. The agency added there was a new distinction in its reporting between the total deaths and "identified" fatalities.

On May 8, it reported that about 35,000 people had been killed in the enclave in total, with almost 25,000 of those listed as identified deaths. Among the identified toll, 20 per cent were women and 32 per cent were children. A further 8 per cent were listed as "elderly" without their gender being given.

The ministry had previously only provided an overall death toll and a death toll of women and children, without the breakdown of how many bodies had been identified. The change in reporting led Israel to allege the figures were inaccurate, because Palestinian authorities previously estimated that more than 70 per cent of those killed were women and children.

Under the new breakdown, the percentage of women and children among the identified casualties is significantly lower.

But the WHO said there was "nothing wrong" with the data on Tuesday and that many of the unidentified bodies under the rubble in Gaza were likely to be women and children.

“Nothing wrong with the data. The overall data [more than 35,000] are still the same,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said at a Geneva press briefing. “The fact we now have 25,000 identified people is a step forward."

He said that based on the data, about 60 per cent of victims were women and children, but many bodies buried beneath rubble were likely to fall into these categories. He added that it was “normal” for death tolls to change during conflicts, and that Israel revised down its figures from the Hamas-led attacks to 1,200 deaths.

“We're basically talking about 35,000 people who are dead, and really every life matters, doesn't it?” Liz Throssell, spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, said at the briefing. “And we know that many of those are women and children and there are thousands missing under the rubble."

Their comments came as at least 14 Palestinians were killed and dozens injured in an Israeli air strike on a house in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Tuesday morning.

Israeli jets struck a three-storey house belonging to the Karaja family in the camp, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. It quoted medical sources as saying children were among the dead.

Gaza's civil defence said its teams pulled eight bodies from the rubble and rescued several others, mostly women and children. Israel also carried out strikes west of Gaza city and in Beit Lahia, in the north-west of the enclave, Wafa said.

Israeli artillery also struck Jabalia camp, north of Gaza city.

The UN said nearly half a million Palestinians have been displaced in recent days by escalating Israeli military operations in the southern and northern parts of the enclave.

About 360,000 Palestinians were driven out of Rafah in southern Gaza in the past week, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said.

About 1.3 million people had taken shelter in Rafah before Israel began pushing into the city, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government says is the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza.

Israeli forces are also battling Hamas militants in northern Gaza, where the army launched major operations earlier in the war.

About 100,000 people have been displaced since the army ordered residents to leave on Saturday, before the start of a latest offensive in the area, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said on Monday.

Meanwhile, Qatar said ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas have reached a stalemate following the ground offensive in Rafah. Over the past few weeks, “we have seen some momentum building, but unfortunately things didn’t move in the right direction,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said at the Qatar Economic Forum on Tuesday.

“Right now, we are in a status of almost a stalemate,” he added.

Updated: May 14, 2024, 3:02 PM