No, the death toll in Gaza has not suddenly been reduced

The death toll in Gaza has not been revised down by the United Nations, the organization confirmed, clearing up a report from one of its agencies that has been used to fuel misinformation about the veracity of figures issued by authorities in Gaza.

The 35,000 number provided by the Health Ministry “remains unchanged,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. secretary general, at a news briefing on Monday. A lower figure that appeared last week in a report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs represented the number of dead who have been identified.

On May 8, the OCHA published a report listing the death toll in Gaza at 24,000, with 7,700 children and 4,900 women killed — approximately half of the latest number of dead women and children provided by the government’s media office. Pro-Israel media ran with the seeming difference, and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggested there was some kind of conspiracy afoot.

According to the Health Ministry’s latest official count, 35,000 people in Gaza have been killed, 15,000 of whom are children and nearly 10,000 women. Those numbers are not in dispute, Haq said, and the 24,000 figure from the OCHA report represents the people “for whom full details have been documented — in other words, people who have been fully identified.”

His remarks square with the Health Ministry’s recent statement that about 10,000 people in its official count have not yet been identified. Christian Lindmeier, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, backed the 35,000 figure as well. “The fact we now have 25,000 identified people is a step forward,” he said.

Documenting the number of people killed in a war zone is a monumental task that becomes increasingly difficult over time. Last month, for example, hundreds of bodies were uncovered in several mass graves near hospitals, some of which were so severely decomposed that they were unrecognizable.

That so much has been made of the apparent discrepancy in the death count speaks to a staggering loss of perspective on the human toll in Gaza. Even if the death toll were “only” 24,000 — itself a devastating figure — it does not change that approximately 1.7 million people have been displaced in Gaza and 60% of homes have been destroyed, and that famine and disease are rampant, according to the U.N.

Israel has attempted to cast doubt on the authenticity and accuracy of the tally of deaths by the Hamas-run agencies in Gaza since Israel began its brutal assault on the strip after the Oct. 7 attacks, which killed 1,200 people. But news outlets, international human rights groups and even the U.S. government have all found the ministry’s numbers to be generally accurate, even if they have not been able to verify them independently.

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, has even said that the ministry’s official numbers are “probably an undercount.”