US State Department says Gaza death toll could be higher than reported
The US State Department’s highest official for Middle East affairs said on Wednesday that the civilian death toll in Gaza is likely higher than estimates suggest.
Barbara Leaf, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, was asked at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about scepticism over the numbers released by the Gaza Health Ministry.
"We think they’re very high, frankly, and it could be that they’re even higher than are being cited," she replied. She added that in times of war, it is difficult to get an accurate assessment, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
"We’ll know only after the guns fall silent," she said, noting that scepticism over the accuracy of the statistics released by health authorities in the Palestinian enclave may undercut the scale of the human catastrophe.
Leaf acknowledged that propaganda and disinformation via social media are always a factor in any conflict situation but said that based on the feedback they are receiving from a variety of individuals and partners on the ground, "it’s very possible that they’re even higher than is being reported".
Gaza health authorities say more than 11,000 people have been killed since Israel began its onslaught on the besieged enclave. The death toll included over 4,000 children and over 3,000 women.
Leaf's remarks mark a stark contrast to the scepticism shown by the Biden administration towards the Palestinian death toll.
The integrity of the figures compiled by Gaza’s health ministry was brought under scrutiny last month when Biden publicly doubted them, saying he had "no confidence" in the casualty reports of health authorities in Gaza.
This led many to accuse Biden and top US officials of “genocide denial”, given they provided no evidence that the figures were inaccurate or exaggerated.
Additionally, the figures of the Palestinian health ministry, which is run by civil servants and doctors, were considered by major human rights groups and UN agencies to be reliable.
In response to Biden’s remarks, on 26 October the health ministry publicly released a detailed list of the names, ages, and sexes of 6,746 people who had been killed during Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza – at the time of Biden’s remarks the death toll was 7,028, with those unable to be identified not included on the health ministry’s list.
The Biden administration did not respond to the health ministry's rebuttal.