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Gaza War: UN revises death toll for women and children

The United Nations has revised down the proportion of women and children among the reported fatalities in Gaza, sparking debate over the accuracy of casualty figures since Israel’s offensive following the Hamas attack on 7 October.

On 6 May, the UN stated that 69% of the reported deaths were women and children. However, just two days later, it revised this figure to 52%. Despite this adjustment, the overall death toll in Gaza remains over 35,000. The UN explained that incomplete information had led to the initial higher percentage and that they are now using figures from the Hamas-run health ministry instead of the Government Media Office (GMO).

The Israeli foreign minister criticized the UN’s change, describing it as “the miraculous resurrection of the dead in Gaza” and accusing the UN of using “fake data from a terrorist organization.”

The figures provided by the GMO and the health ministry differ because of the way deaths have been recorded. Initially, the health ministry only reported deaths registered in hospitals. From November, the GMO included deaths recorded in “reliable media reports” and those reported by family members online. Recently, the health ministry incorporated these media reports and family submissions.

The revised data shows that the number of women and children among the dead has decreased significantly. On 6 May, the UN cited GMO figures reporting 9,500 women and 14,500 children dead. However, two days later, using health ministry data, the figures were revised to 4,959 women and 7,797 children. This difference arises because individuals with incomplete information were not included in the demographic breakdown.

The death toll’s accuracy remains contentious. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that approximately 30,000 people had died in Gaza, with 14,000 being “terrorists” and 16,000 civilians, although no evidence was provided for these numbers.

Recording accurate casualties during wartime is notoriously challenging.

The initial death toll from the 7 October Hamas attacks was estimated at 1,400 by Israeli authorities but was later revised down to around 1,200 due to the misidentification of some bodies.

The UN’s change in approach is significant. Initially, the GMO consistently reported a higher proportion of women and children among the dead than the health ministry. On 6 May, the UN reported 34,735 deaths based on GMO figures, with women and children making up the majority. Two days later, the UN’s report, citing health ministry data, showed a total of 34,844 deaths but with a significantly lower number of women and children.

The UN said it switched to health ministry data because it provided more comprehensive breakdowns backed by a list of names.

This revision underscores the complexities and challenges of tracking civilian casualties in conflict zones and highlights the ongoing debate over the true impact of the war on Gaza’s population.