‘Who Can Count the Bodies?’ Asks Hamas’ Health Ministry As Another Hamas Office Issues Stats

Nov. 28 UPDATE:

Reuters Corrects Falsehood About 13,300 Civilian Fatalities

In response to CAMERA communication with Reuters, editors have amended its erroneous reporting that Hamas had claimed 13,300 civilian fatalities, as the terror organization does not specify if reported casualties were combatants or civilians. See below for a detailed update.

Since Hamas started its war with Israel on Oct. 7 by committing brutual atrocities against thousands of Israeli citizens, the terror organization's Ministry of Health in Gaza has been the media's go-to source for Gaza casualty statistics even as critics pointed out the ministry's credibility deficit. Questions about the reliability of a health ministry run by a terror organization have prompted media outlets, including the Associated Press and BBC, to go to great lengths to attempt to cover for the ministry's credibility gap ("What is Gaza's Ministry of Health and how does it calculate the war's death toll?" and "How the Dead Are Counted").

In recent days, the Hamas-run health ministry has stated that it stopped keeping track of this information. “No one has correct numbers, that’s not possible anymore,” Health Ministry official Mehdat Abbas told AP. “People are thrown in the streets. They’re under the rubble. Who can count the bodies and release the death toll in a press conference?”

And yet Reuters continues to report alleged casualty statistics attributed to "authorities in Gaza" and "health officials." So what's going on? If Hamas' Ministry of Health says "no one has correct numbers," then who in Gaza is feeding the media the information, and of what credibility? And what is the significance of this change in sourcing?

A week ago, Reuters reported that Gaza's Ministry of Health, better known as Hamas, was having trouble updating the data ("Palestinian officials say harder to update Gaza casualty toll as health system buckles," Nov. 15): 

Palestinian health authorities said on Wednesday it was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain accurate casualty figures from Gaza due to the collapse of the hospital and health system in parts of the Israeli-besieged enclave.

The Palestinian health ministry has been issuing a constantly updated total of the casualties from the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, launched in the wake of the deadly attack on Israel by Hamas gunmen on Oct. 7.

But as Israeli forces have pushed deep into the Gaza Strip and communications infrastructure has been degraded, contact with hospitals has buckled and systematic data collection has become more problematic, the ministry said.

"For the fourth consecutive day, the ministry faces challenges in updating the number of casualties because of services and communications collapsing in hospitals in the north," it said in a statement.

Then, yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the Hamas-run Ministry of Health has ceased keeping track of this information, reporting ("Gaza health officials say they lost the ability to count the dead as Israeli offensive intensifies"):

Palestinian health officials in Gaza said Tuesday that they have lost the ability to count the dead because of the collapse of parts of the enclave’s health system and the difficulty of retrieving bodies from areas overrun by Israeli tanks and troops.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which carefully tracked casualties over the first five weeks of war, gave its most recent death toll of 11,078 on Nov. 10. The United Nations humanitarian office, which cites the Health Ministry death toll in its regular reports, still refers to 11,078 as the last verified death toll from the war. . . .

“Unfortunately, the Ministry of Health has not yet been able to issue its statistics because there is a breakdown in communication between hospitals and disruption to the internet,” ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told The Associated Press. The electronic database that health authorities use to compile casualties from hospitals “is no longer able to count the names and tally the statistics,” he said. . . .

Officials at the Health Ministry, long seen as the most reliable local source for casualties, said they believe the death toll has jumped sharply in the past week based on doctors’ estimates after airstrikes on densely populated neighborhoods and reports from families about missing loved ones. But they said it had become virtually impossible to arrive at a precise number of victims.

“No one has correct numbers, that’s not possible anymore,” Health Ministry official Mehdat Abbas said. “People are thrown in the streets. They’re under the rubble. Who can count the bodies and release the death toll in a press conference?”

Abbas’ comments appeared to be a dig at the Health Ministry in the occupied West Bank, where the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, a rival of Hamas, administers autonomous enclaves.

The West Bank ministry in Ramallah gave similar casualty counts to its counterpart in Gaza over the first five weeks of war. But after the Gaza ministry stopped counting, health authorities in Ramallah kept releasing regular reports with death tolls — most recently 13,300 — without discussing their methodology. U.N. agencies said they could not verify the West Bank ministry’s numbers.

The Health Ministry in the West Bank stopped providing its own count Tuesday without giving a reason. Because of that, and because officials there declined to explain in detail how they tracked deaths after Nov. 11, the AP decided to stop reporting the West Bank count.

Authorities in Gaza said they could not account for how the West Bank’s Health Ministry tallied the numbers. Al-Qidra described the figures released by the Ramallah-based ministry as “personal statistics” unrelated to Gaza’s ministry.

“If someone is sitting in an air-conditioned office, he can say whatever he wants,” Abbas said. “But if you come to the field here, no one can work between tanks to count how many people are killed.”

Despite the fact that Hamas' Ministry of Health says it is not possible to provide correct numbers, Hamas' Government Media Office claims to somehow do so. The methodology of this separate Hamas office is completely opaque, and there is no explanation for how it's able to gather the data while its colleagues in the Ministry of Health cannot. The Hamas Government Media Office most recently shared casualty data yesterday, citing 14,128 "martyrs."

Glossing over the notable change in sourcing, Reuters today reported: "Israeli bombardments have flattened swathes of Hamas-ruled Gaza, killed 13,300 civilians in the tiny densely populated enclave and left about two-thirds of its 2.3 million people homeless, according to authorities in Gaza." ("Israel, Hamas agree four-day truce for hostage release and aid into Gaza," by Nidal a-Mughrabi and Rami Amichay. Emphasis added.)

(Regarding the disparity in figures, on Nov. 19, the opaque Government Media Office had cited 13,000 "martyrs." A jump of more than 1100 fatalities in just two days is a significant, unexplained escalation.)

Similarly, Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell used the identical language in their article yesterday, "Israeli government meets to decide on deal for Hamas to free some hostages."

Aside from the fact that Reuters fails to explain how a Hamas media office is able to determine casualty figures while Hamas' Ministry of Health cannot, the news agency embellishes Hamas' unverifiable claim with its own fabrication, falsely claiming that all of the fatalities are civilian. Contrary to Reuters' reports, not all of the dead in Gaza are civilians killed by Israeli bombardments. The figures also include Hamas terrorists, including over a 1000 killed within Israel as they carried out atrocities on the Oct. 7 massacre, plus thousands more killed fighting soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Civilians killed by failed Palestinian rockets which fell short in Gaza, including the Al-Ahli hospital parking lot fatalities in Gaza, also fall under Hamas' figure.

Previously, the GuardianThe Telegraph and Times of London have all previously corrected the identical claim that all of the fatalities in Gaza were civilians. 
In a separate article today, Reuters falsely depicts the casualty data as originating with health officials, claiming ("Israel, Hamas agree first truce, 50 hostages to go free in swap"): "Since [Oct. 7], more than 14,000 Gazans have been killed, around 40% of them children, according to medical officials in the Hamas-ruled territory, figures deemed reliable by the United Nations."
Besides the fact that Hamas' health officials have themselves said they no longer track the figures, it's also worth noting that the United Nations did not independently verify Health Ministry data, and is therefore in no position to judge its reliability with any empirical evidence.
For weeks, western media outlets, Reuters included, put great stock into the fatality figures announced by the Hamas-run health ministry. Now that the ministry has acknowledged "No one has correct numbers, that's not possible anymore," on what basis does Reuters keep reporting impossibly counted figures inexplicably attributed to Gaza health officials and "authorities in Gaza"?
It's difficult to understand the logic of one Hamas-run outfit publishing casualty statistics even as another run Hamas-body says it's not possible to gather such information. And it's impossible to understand Western journalists who fail to probe Hamas' talking out of both sides of its mouth, instead parroting mysterious figures as if they hold any shred of credibility whatsoever.
With research by CAMERA Arabic.

Nov. 28 Update: Reuters Corrects About 13,300 'Civilians' Killed

After CAMERA's repeated communication with Reuters, editors yesterday amended the Nov. 21 article which had falsely reported that "authorities in Gaza" said that Israeli bombardments killed "13,300 civilians," when in fact the terror organization makes no distinction between civilians and combatants. Editors commendably changed the reference to "13,300 people" and attached the following note to the top of the article alerting readers to the change.

(This Nov. 21 story has been corrected to say people instead of civilians in paragraph 7)

Reuters earlier updated a second story which had used that erroneous language, eliminating the misinformation.

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