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Understanding the human cost: BBC Verify offers up insights into civilian harm in Gaza

In a detailed investigation by BBC Verify, led by reporter Merlyn Thomas, the devastating human toll of the ongoing conflict in Gaza has been brought to light. Since the onset of Israeli bombings following Hamas’s attacks on 7 October, Gaza has witnessed a staggering number of casualties, with as many as 20,000 no reported dead. This BBC report astutely delves into what these figures reveal about the nature of the conflict and its profound impact on the civilian population.

Staggering Losses
Since the conflict’s inception, following the terrible attack by Hamas on the 7 October of Isreal, nearly 300 people have been killed daily, a figure that excludes the brief period of ceasefire. The death toll, as per Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, is believed by experts like the World Health Organization’s Richard Brennan to be credible. However, the actual numbers could be significantly higher, considering the challenges of counting casualties in war zones and those buried under rubble.

Comparative Analysis of the Conflict
BBC Verify’s analysis shows a disturbing trend in the current conflict. According to Prof. Michael Spagat, an expert in conflict death tolls and co-chair of Action on Armed Violence, the pace and indiscriminate nature of killings in this war are unparalleled in the history of Gaza wars since 2008. With a death toll nearing 20,000, almost 1% of Gaza’s population has been affected.

The Role of Explosive Weapons
The variety and scale of bombs used by Israel, as detailed by military experts, have been a significant contributor to the high fatality rates. Marc Garlasco, a former senior Pentagon analyst, describes the impact of the largest bombs as akin to “surfing on the Earth,” highlighting the severe implications of using such weapons in densely populated areas like Gaza.

Civilians at the Forefront
The most harrowing aspect of the conflict is the disproportionate impact on civilians, particularly women and children. The Hamas-run health ministry reports that they constitute about 70% of the fatalities. The numbers, although not distinguishing between male civilians and combatants, underscore the tragic toll on the non-combatant population.

Comparisons with Other Conflicts
The rate of civilian deaths in Gaza is alarmingly higher compared to other recent conflicts. Emily Tripp of Airwars notes that the civilian deaths in Gaza have far surpassed those in other conflicts they have monitored. Garlasco draws parallels with the Vietnam War to find a similar intensity of conflict in a densely populated area.

Children: The Most Vulnerable Victims
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching aspect of this conflict is its impact on children. Nearly half of Gaza’s population is under 18, and the war has left them especially vulnerable. With entire neighbourhoods destroyed, the younger population faces a bleak and uncertain future.

Challenges in Casualty Reporting
Counting casualties in conflict zones is inherently challenging. The diverse methodologies used in different conflicts make comparisons difficult. Moreover, the verification of combatant versus civilian deaths adds another layer of complexity to understanding the true nature of the toll. When the bombardments end many more dead may well be found.

This report by BBC Verify, complemented by insights from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), presents a stark reminder of the tragic human cost of the Gaza conflict. As the world grapples with the realities of modern warfare, the need for a concerted effort to protect civilian lives and uphold international humanitarian laws has never been more pressing.

As the article notes: “In worldwide conflicts between 2011 and 2021, on average 90% of fatalities were civilians when explosive weapons were used on populated areas, according to the research and advocacy group Action on Armed Violence.” Gaza is proving no different.