RAMALLAH, West Bank/BEIRUT, Dec 7 (Reuters) – Israeli forces unleashed air and ground bombardment on Hamas in Gaza following a cross-border attack by the enclave’s ruling Islamist group on Oct. 7. At least 16,015 Palestinians have been killed since then. then, according to figures from the Gaza Ministry of Health, while 1,200 people died in the Hamas incursion into Israel, according to Israeli counts.
Assistance agencies warn that the humanitarian disaster in Gaza is worsening by the hour, with most of its 2.3 million inhabitants homeless and trapped in a small, besieged coastal enclave, with little food, water, medical care, fuel or safe shelter.
With basic infrastructure devastated, telephone and internet services frequently disrupted, and several health statisticians dead or missing, there is growing concern that Gaza health authorities will no longer be able to keep an accurate count of the number of victims.
HOW HAVE THE VICTIM TOLLS BEEN COMPILED SO FAR?
In the first six weeks of the war, Gaza hospital morgues sent figures to the Health Ministry’s main collection center at Al Shifa Hospital. Officials used Excel sheets to keep track of the names, ages and identification card numbers of the dead and transmitted them to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah, part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) that exercises limited self-government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. .
But Omar Hussein Ali, director of the ministry’s emergency operations center in Ramallah, said that of the four officials who ran the Shifa data center, one was killed in an airstrike that hit the hospital, while the other three went missing when the Israeli forces took over the facility as a suspected Hamas hideout.
“The type of casualty registration needed to understand what is happening is becoming more difficult. The information infrastructure and health systems that existed are being systematically destroyed,” said Hamit Dardagan of Iraq Body Count, created during the invasion and US-led occupation of Iraq. Iraq.
The organization has also been trying to track Gaza victims, using Health Ministry data and monitoring death reports from social media and other media outlets.
Since a week-long truce collapsed on Dec. 1, casualty updates that were usually posted daily have become irregular. The latest update from the Gaza Health Ministry came on Monday through spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra, raising the death toll to 15,899.
On Tuesday he did not hold his usual press conference. He did not issue a statement for about 48 hours, until Wednesday evening, when he sent a WhatsApp message to journalists that did not include a daily casualty report, but said that the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital in Gaza City was overwhelmed by the victims and “the wounded are bleeding to death.”
Reuters could not immediately verify the report.
Only two partial reports have been issued that increase the death toll, based on the number of bodies taken to two hospitals: 43 on Tuesday and 73 on Wednesday.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila saying On Tuesday, Gaza’s health services were in a “disastrous” state, with more than 250 staff killed and at least 30 arrested by Israeli forces.
ARE THE PUBLISHED VICTIM FIGURES COMPLETE?
No, experts told Reuters.
“Our monitoring suggests that the figures provided by the Ministry of Health may be underestimated, as they do not include deaths that did not reach hospitals or that may have been lost under the rubble,” said the spokesperson for the human rights office of the Ministry of Health. UN.
“It’s a logical assumption that the numbers being reported are underestimated and low,” said Nathaniel Raymond, executive director of the Humanitarian Research Laboratory at the Yale School of Public Health, who has worked on counting deaths in armed conflict and natural disasters for more than 20 years.
The Palestinian Authority’s October 26 report said that at least 1,000 bodies could not be recovered or taken to morgues, citing families interviewed by its staff in Gaza, a clear and plausible example of the war’s impact “on the capture of data and reporting,” the Lancet article said. .
The number of bodies feared buried under the rubble now numbers in the thousands and much of the excavation equipment of Gaza’s civil defense forces has been destroyed in airstrikes, the Palestinian Authority’s health minister said on Tuesday. -Kaila.
HOW BELIEVABLE ARE THE VICTIM FIGURES TO DATE?
Prewar Gaza had solid demographic statistics (according to a 2017 census and more recent U.N. surveys) and health information systems that worked better than in most Middle Eastern countries, public health experts said. to Reuters.
Oona Campbell, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said Palestinian health authorities have long-standing credibility with their methods of maintaining baseline statistics and tracking deaths generally, not just during wartime. UN agencies rely in them.
“Palestinian data collection capabilities are professional and many ministry staff have been trained in the United States. They work hard to ensure statistical fidelity,” said Yale University’s Raymond.
On October 26, the Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry released a 212-page report with the names, ages and identification numbers of 7,028 Palestinians it recorded as killed by airstrikes, after US President Joe Biden cast doubts about the victim figures.
Campbell and two other academics analyzed The data was reported in the Lancet medical journal on November 26 and concluded that there was no obvious reason to doubt its validity. “We consider it implausible that these patterns (of death rates) arise from data fabrication,” the researchers wrote.
The PA Ministry of Health has not issued a similar detailed report since then, reflecting the decline in communications with Gaza.
WHAT DOES ISRAEL SAY?
A senior Israeli official told reporters on Monday that about a third of those killed in Gaza so far were enemy fighters, estimating their number at less than 10,000 but more than 5,000, without detailing how that estimate was arrived at. The official said the total count of about 15,000 dead as of Monday provided by Palestinian authorities, who do not break down the count between civilians and combatants, is “more or less” correct.
Human rights groups and researchers. say The high number of civilian casualties is due to the use of heavy weapons – including so-called “bunker buster” bombs aimed at destroying Hamas’ strategic tunnel network – and attacks on residential districts where Israel says Hamas has hidden militant bases. rocket launch pads and weaponry within and beneath them. apartment blocks and hospitals.
WHAT IS THE DISTRIBUTION OF DEAD CHILDREN VERSUS ADULTS?
The United Nations, as well as Israeli and Palestinian law, defines a child as someone under the age of 18, although some Hamas militants are believed to be teenagers.
The Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry said on Tuesday that around 70% of those killed in Gaza were women and children under 18, but has not published any breakdown by age category since its October 26 report.
The Lancet article said data from the ministry’s report showed that 11.5% of deaths recorded between October 7 and 26 were children between 0 and 4 years, 11.5% between 5 and 9 years, 10.7% between 10-14 and 9.1% between 15 and 19 years.
“There was a clear peak among men aged 30 to 34, possibly reflecting exposure to combatants or civilians (for example, first responders at bomb sites, journalists, and people going out to collect water and food for their families),” he said.
COULD THE DEATH NUMBERS NOW BECOME A VICTIM OF WAR?
The new phase of Israel’s offensive, which expands into the southern half of Gaza starting Dec. 1, has further diminished the scope for collecting reliable data on the death toll, Richard Peeperkorn, the U.S. envoy, said Tuesday. World Health Organization to Gaza.
“As we all know, we normally receive (data) from the Ministry of Health, and for several days now they are based much more on estimates, it is much more difficult for them,” he said.
Experts said the fact that it was becoming nearly impossible to work for a once-efficient cohort of health technocrats was another heartbreaking indication of the cost of the war.
“It’s a terrible sign when you get to a point, like Sudan, where there isn’t even a record of deaths. That in itself shows us aid workers that this is the worst case scenario,” Raymond said. from Yale University. .
Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Maggie Fick in Beirut; additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Jerusalem, Jana Choukeir in Dubai, Emma Farge in Geneva, Helen Reid in London and Adam Makary in Cairo; written by Maggie Fick; editing by Mark Heinrich and Miral Fahmy
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