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9 Nov, 2023 18:17

Gaza death toll ‘could be even higher’ – US official

Palestinian reports could be undercounting the dead, a State Department diplomat has said
Gaza death toll ‘could be even higher’ – US official

The number of Gaza Palestinians killed in Israel’s war on Hamas is probably higher than the 10,000 reported by the local health ministry, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf has told Congress. 

“In this period of conflict and conditions of war, it is very difficult for any of us to assess what the rate of casualties are,” Leaf told the House Foreign Affairs Committee during a hearing on Wednesday, according to The Hill. “We think they’re very high, frankly, and it could be that they’re even higher than are being cited.”

“We take in sourcing from a variety of folks who are on the ground,” Leaf added. “I can’t stipulate to one figure or another, it’s very possible they’re even higher than is being reported.”

As of Wednesday, the Health Ministry in Gaza has reported the overall death toll from Israeli attacks at 10,569 – including 4,324 children – with 26,475 people wounded and at least 2,550 missing.

Leaf’s comments seemed at odds with last month’s statement by US President Joe Biden, who said he had “no confidence” in the Palestinian numbers. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the Gaza Health Ministry is “just a front for Hamas.”

“We can’t take anything coming out of Hamas, including the so-called ‘Ministry of Health’, at face value,” Kirby said at the White House press briefing on October 26.

The US has reportedly asked Israel to avoid killing civilians, but a New York Times article last week revealed that Israeli officials “believed mass civilian casualties were an acceptable price in the military campaign,” comparing the operations in Gaza with the firebombings of Germany and Japan in WWII.

Israel declared war on Hamas after the October 7 incursion by the Palestinian militant group, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,400 Israeli citizens, while more than 200 were taken hostage.

Speaking to the House panel on Wednesday, Leaf described the civilian suffering in Gaza as “emotionally wrenching” but said that stopping the Israeli military operation would be wrong.

“To call a cease-fire right now that might or might not be honored by Hamas, would be to leave Hamas in control of some 240 hostages, including babies and children, and would also leave fairly well intact, much of the military infrastructure and warfighting capacity and terrorism capacity of Hamas intact,” she said.