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Thursday, January 22, 2009

How many dead in Gaza? Hard to say.

An Italian reporter is claiming that there were no more than 500-600 deaths, total, in Gaza: (h/t Backspin)
The number of Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead did not exceed five or six hundred, Lorenzo Cremonesi, a correspondent for Italy's Corriere della sera reported on Thursday.

Cremonesi based his report on tours of hospitals in the Gaza Strip and on interviews with families of casualties. He also assessed the number of wounded to be far lower than 5,000, the number quoted by Hamas and repeated by the UN and the Red Cross in Gaza.

"It is sufficient to visit several hospitals [in the Gaza Strip] to understand that the numbers don't add up," he wrote.

In the European hospital in Rafah, one of the facilities which would presumably be filled with wounded from the "war of the tunnels," many beds were empty, according to Cremonesi. A similar situation was noted in the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, and in the privately-run Amal Hospital Cremonesi reported that only five out 150 beds were occupied.

Cremonesi interviewed Gazans who echoed Israel's insistence of how Hamas gunmen used civilians as human shields. One Gazan recalled civilians in Gaza shouting at Hamas and Islamic Jihad men, "Go away, go away from here! Do you want the Israelis to kill us all? Do you want our children to die under their bombs? Take your guns and missiles with you."

"Traitors, collaborators with Israel, spies of Fatah, cowards! The soldiers of the holy war will punish you. And in any case you will all die, like us. Fighting the Zionist Jews we are all destined for paradise. Do you not wish to die with us?" the religious fanatics of Hamas reportedly responded.

Other Palestinians told Cremonesi of Hamas operatives donning paramedic uniforms and commandeering ambulances. A woman identified as Um Abdullah, 48, spoke of Hamas using UN buildings as launch pads for rockets.

Cremonesi reported that he had difficultly gathering evidence as the local population was terrified of Hamas.

YNet reports this a bit more cautiously:

Despite the claims, the IDF stood behind its estimate that between 1,100 to 1,200 people were killed in the Strip during the fighting, more than two-thirds of them Hamas members.

The army initially believed that the number of civilian casualties was higher, as many Hamas men walked outside their houses dressed in civilian clothes, leaving their weapons at home.

Dr. Moaiya Hassanain, who is in change of the emergency department at the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, denied the figures presented by the Italian paper.

Hassanain told Ynet that the Palestinian figures were issued cautiously, without any political considerations, and that several casualties may not have been reported as their bodies are still under the rubble or have not been handed over to the rescue forces and authorized medical officials.

A Tal al-Hawa resident told the newspaper's reporter, "Armed Hamas men sought out a good position for provoking the Israelis. There were mostly teenagers, aged 16 or 17, and armed. They couldn't do a thing against a tank or a jet. They knew they are much weaker, but they fired at our houses so that they could blame Israel for war crimes."

The reporter for the Italian newspaper also quoted reporters in the Strip who told of Hamas' exaggerated figures, "We have already said to Hamas commanders – why do you insist on inflating the number of victims?"

These same reporters mentioned that the truth that will come out is likely to be similar to what occurred in Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin. "Then, there was first talk of 1,500 deaths. But then it turned out that there were only 54, 45 of which were armed men," the Palestinian reporters told the Italian newspaper.

These new figures must be treated with caution especially in light of the fact that various official sources in the Gaza Strip, including United Nations and Red Cross officials, have reported that more than 1,300 people were killed and some 5,000 wounded during the three weeks of fighting in the coastal strip. Palestinian sources claim that three-quarters of the dead were unarmed civilians.

I have no doubts about the anecdotes, but it is very hard to know how many were killed, and Cremonesi's methods of counting do not seem too rigorous.

The PCHR makes a point of listing the names of the dead when it can, and they count 1284 dead. (The site is unavailable at the moment.) I don't think that they are lying about the total, but they do count civilians in ways that I would not agree with. For example, they count Hamas leaders Said Siam and Nizar Rayan as civilians.

They also count the Hamas police as civilians.

Here are some raw numbers of claims from the Gaza side of militants/terrorists killed during the operation:

Hamas - 48 (an absurdly low number)

Gaza "civil defense" - 11

Islamic Jihad - 39

Gaza "police force" - 230

Fatah's Al-Mujahideen Brigades - 5

Fatah's Al Aqsa Brigades -3

PRC - unknown, at least 3 I know of

DFLP - 13

PFLP - unknown, at least 1 I know of

Fatah members killed by Hamas - at least 16

All terror groups according to PCHR: 223 (not including the Gaza police, civil defense, infighting, public Hamas figures)

The PCHR certainly doe not distinguish between Gaza civilians killed by Israel and those killed by Hamas, in "friendly fire" or misfires.

I don't have a solid idea of the real numbers, so this is just to throw some data out there.