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What is Gaza’s Ministry of Health and how does it calculate the war’s death toll?

JERUSALEM (AP) — How many Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the war between Israel and Hamas started?

With Israel besieging and bombing territory at a scale never seen before, arriving at a precise answer isn’t easy. Cell service is spotty. Internet and power are out. Airstrikes have pulverized roads and leveled neighborhoods, slowing rescue work.

Doctors scribble on notepads in overflowing morgues and hospital halls, struggling to account for bodies trapped under rubble and tossed in hastily dug mass graves. The chaos has added to the likelihood of errors.

Yet the Gaza-based Ministry of Health — an agency in the Hamas-controlled government — continues to tally casualty numbers. It released its first detailed report on the casualties Thursday, giving names, ID numbers, ages and gender for Palestinians it says have been killed. The total toll is 7,028 Palestinians, including 2,913 minors, according to the ministry.

The ministry is the only official source for Gaza casualties. Israel has sealed Gaza’s borders, barring foreign journalists and humanitarian workers. The AP is among a small number of international news organizations with teams in Gaza. While those journalists cannot do a comprehensive count, they’ve viewed large numbers of bodies at the sites of airstrikes, morgues and funerals.

The United Nations and other international institutions and experts, as well as Palestinian authorities in the West Bank — rivals of Hamas — say the Gaza ministry has long made a good-faith effort to account for the dead under the most difficult conditions.

“The numbers may not be perfectly accurate on a minute-to-minute basis,” said Michael Ryan, of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program. “But they largely reflect the level of death and injury.”

In previous wars, the ministry’s counts have held up to U.N. scrutiny, independent investigations and even Israel’s tallies.

 

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