Two weeks after the fighting in the Gaza Strip has ended, the battle over the exact number and identity of the Palestinians killed during Operation Cast Lead is still raging. Most of the international media has unquestioningly accepted the Hamas figures of 1,300 fatalities but there are other reports that put the numbers significantly lower.
Throughout the fighting, most of the figures coming out of Gaza were from either Palestinian sources or international agencies belonging mainly to the United Nations and the Red Cross which, in Gaza, are heavily influenced by the Hamas authorities. Following the ceasefire, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza put the number of dead at 1,314 with about 5,300 wounded. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) put the number slightly lower at 1,285.
So far, there have been no official figures from Israel and international agencies have mainly relied on the Palestinian figures.
In off-the-record briefings, senior IDF officers have put the number of Palestinians killed in the operation at around 900.
One of the few independent assessments to come out so far was the report by veteran Italian war correspondent, Lorenzo Cremonesi of the Italian newspaper, Corriere Della Sera, who visited a number of Palestinian hospitals following the ceasefire and quoted an unnamed Palestinian doctor as saying that there had been between 500 and 600 killed, mainly young Hamas fighters.
He also found many of the Palestinian hospitals empty, leading to the conclusion that the number of wounded had also been vastly inflated, though this could have been due to many of the wounded being evacuated to Egyptian hospitals.
The Palestinians have in the past sought to inflate the numbers of civilian casualties in order to generate international outrage at Israel, most notably during the IDF operation in Jenin in 2002, which was originally termed a “massacre” but in the end turned out to have caused 54 fatalities — the great majority of whom were fighters.
In this case, Hamas has another motive: to hide the number of its own fighters killed in the operation, allowing it to claim victory despite Israel’s devastating attack.
The Palestinians have insisted that over 80 percent of their fatalities were civilians. The IDF has unofficially said that over three-quarters of those killed were connected to Hamas and that the number of “uninvolved” Palestinians was much lower.
But despite holding the names of most of those killed, the Israeli government has not yet decided whether to make them public. “The Palestinians are pushing up the numbers,” said a senior Israeli official, “but it is still a large number of fatalities and we are not sure yet how we want to deal with it.”
Another consideration for the Israeli authorities is the threat of war-crimes prosecutions against IDF officers and for that reason all the available evidence is, for now, being kept under wraps.
Fatalities claimed by Hamas; 80 per cent civilian
Hamas claims as wounded
Fatalities according to unnamed Palestinian doctor in Italian paper
Number of casualties according to Israelis, three-quarters of whom were Hamas fighters