Israeli officials rely on Gaza health ministry death toll, contradicting public claims
Israeli intelligence officials have admitted to relying on civilian death toll statistics collated by Gaza's health ministry, despite Tel Aviv publicly undermining the ministry's reliability.
Two Israeli intelligence officials who spoke to the Hebrew-language Local Call news website said the health ministry is mostly "reliable" and their main source of statistics on civilian deaths in Gaza.
"Israeli intelligence secretly surveilled officials in Gaza’s Health Ministry to check if their data on the number of civilians killed in Gaza is 'reliable', Israeli intelligence sources told us. The army found the numbers are reliable and now regularly uses them internally in intelligence briefings," reporter Yuval Abraham said on X on Wednesday.
Abraham added that the sources said Israel has no good wellspring for data on Palestinian casualties in Gaza, so relies solely on the Palestinian data.
One of the Israeli sources told Local Call that Israeli forces do not carry out Bomb Damage Assessments (BDA) for the hundreds of AI-informed strikes against low-level Hamas targets, meaning that the only available data on civilian deaths is from Gaza authorities.
"I don’t know how many people I killed as collateral damage. We only check that information for senior Hamas targets," one source was quoted as saying. "In other cases I didn’t care. I immediately moved on to the next target. The focus was on creating as many targets as quickly as possible. That’s why I trust the Health Ministry in Gaza more than the IDF [Israeli military] for these statistics. The army just doesn’t have the information."
The revelations contrast with the official statements of Israel's officials and allies, who have questioned the death tolls given by Gaza's health ministry.
In late October – when over 6,500 Palestinians had been killed — US President Joe Biden said he had "no confidence" in the Palestinian health ministry figures.
Shortly after the president made the remarks, the health ministry published a detailed list of those killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza, including of the 2,900 children who had been killed up until that point.
UN experts and rights groups pushed back against the questions raised about Gaza's civilian death toll, highlighting that the health ministry had provided accurate statistics in previous Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Western media outlets have also treated the health ministry figures with suspicion, referring in their reports to Gaza's health authorities as "Hamas-run". This framing has drawn widespread criticism.
Israeli officials also claim to have killed a large number of Hamas fighters, while Gaza health authorities say that two-thirds of the current death toll of over 25,000 are women and children, excluding the number of male civilians.
In early December, when the Gaza death toll stood at 16,000, it was widely reported that Israel's army believed that it had killed two civilians for every one Hamas militant slain. Former Israeli army spokesperson Jonathan Conricus confirmed the reports in an interview with CNN, describing the figure as "tremendously positive".
Israel's war on Gaza has killed over 25,000 people in the Palestinian territory, with more than 63,000 wounded, Gaza's health ministry said on Wednesday.
In addition to tens of thousands killed, the assault has made much of Gaza uninhabitable.