United Nations cuts estimate for deaths of women and children in Gaza in half

WASHINGTON ― The United Nations reduced estimates for the number of women and children killed during Israel's war in Gaza by nearly half, inviting new scrutiny for figures that come from the militant group Hamas.

Of the 34,735 people who have died in Gaza since the war began, according to data published May 6 by the UN, more than 9,500 were women and more than 14,500 were children.

But in updated data published two days later on May 8, the UN significantly reduced the figures to 4,959 women and 7,797 children among the 34,844 people reportedly killed in Gaza.

The UN cites data from the Gaza Ministry of Health, controlled by Hamas, to produce casualty figures. The UN reports come with a disclaimer that says, "The UN has so far not been able to produce independent, comprehensive, and verified casualty figures."

In a statement to USA TODAY, UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko said the Gaza Ministry of Health's overall number of fatalities remain unchanged and cited the ministry's April 30 update on the breakdown of the 24,686 fatalities for whom the ministry has complete details.

"According to the Ministry, the fatalities for whom full details have been documented include 7,797 children, 4,959 women, 1,924 elderly, and 10,006 men," Kaneko said. "The Ministry of Health notes that the documentation process of casualties’ full identification details is ongoing"

The updated UN breakdown of casualties does not include more than 10,000 people who the Gaza Ministry of Health considers "missing or under the rubble" in Gaza.

Last month, the Gazan Health Ministry said through its Telegram channel it had incomplete data for 11,371 fatalities it claimed to have documented. A record is considered incomplete if an individual's identity number, full name, date of birth, or date of death is missing, the ministry noted in the report.

Boys watch smoke billowing during Israeli strikes east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 13, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Boys watch smoke billowing during Israeli strikes east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 13, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Kaneko said UN teams in Gaza have been unable to independently verify the figures because of "the prevailing situation on the ground and the sheer number of fatalities."

"For this reason, all figures used by the UN clearly cite the Ministry of Health in Gaza as the source," she said. "The UN will verify these figures to the extent possible when conditions permit."

The revised estimates were first reported by the Jerusalem Post.

After expressing initial skepticism last year about the accuracy of figures provided by Hamas, President Joe Biden in recent months started to cite death figures from the Gaza Ministry of Health, including during his March State of the Union address to Congress.

Israeli officials have long disputed the death figures reported by Hamas including the share of women and children killed during the war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said more 13,000 Hamas "terrorists" have been among the Palestinians killed in Gaza since the war began Oct. 7.

"Hamas wants the world to believe that the main casualties and fatalities have been women and children, an argument almost universally accepted until very recently," Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the think-tank Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a blog post.

"Now even the UN, or one part of the UN, silently acknowledges that it blindly accepted Hamas numbers meant to mislead," said Abrams, former deputy national security adviser for President George W. Bush.

According to the UN's latest figures, 40% of casualties in Gaza have been men, 32% children, 20% women and 8% elderly.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: UN deaths in Gaza estimate cut in half for women and children