Mass casualty airstrikes in Gaza have raised questions about the accuracy of fatality numbers in the war zone. Gaza’s official count, based on hospital administrative data, has come under scrutiny. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that 9,061 people have been killed since 7 October, with two-thirds of them being women and children. However, an Israeli military spokesman and US President Joe Biden have expressed doubts about these figures and accused the ministry of inflating the number of civilian casualties.
In contrast, Israel’s fatality figures have not faced the same skepticism. The Israeli military reports that “over 1,400” people were killed by Hamas on 7 October, including 1,033 civilians. Twenty Israeli soldiers have also lost their lives during ground operations in Gaza.
Gaza, being a war zone, poses challenges for accurate death toll verification. Journalists and UN investigators have been able to visit attacked Israeli villages to corroborate the figures, but Israel has not allowed observers to enter Gaza since the conflict began.
Gazan journalists themselves face obstacles due to periodic phone and internet outages, fuel shortages, and the constant risk of airstrikes. And the intensity of the bombardment hinders their movement within the territory. Emily Tripp, the director of Airwars, an organization focused on airstrike casualty verification, highlights these challenges.
Satellite imagery and social media videos have become crucial resources in verifying individual incidents and illustrating the scale of the killings. Footage posted online shows the rapid expansion of cemeteries in Gaza, where makeshift graves are being dug. Sky News has identified these expanded areas as mass graves. The Gaza Ministry of Religious Affairs has authorized the digging of such graves for those killed in the bombings.
Given the difficulties of obtaining on-the-ground documentation, outside observers currently rely on Gaza’s health ministry for an overall picture of the fatalities. Historically, the ministry has been deemed fairly reliable, with its figures aligning with those later produced by the UN and the Israeli Defense Forces. In response to doubts about their statistics, the ministry recently published the names and ages of identified victims.
Despite controversies surrounding specific incidents, the open-source information corresponds to the ministry’s documentation, providing some confidence in the numbers. Analysts like Brian Root from Human Rights Watch have found no reason to distrust the figures released by the ministry.
In conclusion, accurate verification of fatality figures in the Gaza conflict remains a challenge due to the limitations imposed on on-the-ground reporting. Outside observers rely on the Gaza health ministry’s data for an overall assessment of the situation.