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Middle East

Authorities in Gaza Lose Count of the Dead

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  • Gaza's health authorities are unable to keep an accurate count of the dead due to the conflict's intensity and infrastructure collapse.
  • The breakdown in communication and coordination among health facilities has led to an incomplete and uncertain death toll.
  • The lack of precise casualty figures has profound implications for historical record, accountability, and international policy-making.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has reached a harrowing point where the sheer number of casualties has overwhelmed the capacity of local authorities to maintain an accurate count. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the Palestinian health authorities in Gaza have publicly admitted their inability to keep track of the dead. Amidst the chaos of war, hospitals, emergency services, and communication systems are barely functioning, making the task of extracting bodies from collapsed buildings an insurmountable challenge.

Gaza's health infrastructure is under severe strain, with the war's continuation taking precedence over the grim task of counting the dead. The Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which had meticulously tracked casualties over the first five weeks of the conflict, reported its most recent death toll on November 10, with a staggering figure of 11,078. However, as the ground invasion by Israel intensified, the ability to verify the number of dead became increasingly difficult.

Health Ministry officials, who are regarded as the most reliable local source for casualty figures, believe the death toll has surged sharply, particularly after airstrikes on densely populated areas. Yet, arriving at a precise number of victims has become virtually impossible. "No one has correct numbers, that’s not possible anymore," said Health Ministry official Mehdat Abbas. "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?".

A Breakdown in Communication and Coordination

The electronic database used by health authorities to compile casualties from hospitals is no longer operational. Efforts to restart the program and resume communication with hospitals have been hindered by the dangerous conditions on the ground. Medics report that it is far too risky to recover the untold scores of dead bodies in Gaza City, where Israeli bulldozers have blocked streets, and tanks fire indiscriminately.

The Health Ministry's headquarters at Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, was vacated as Israeli forces besieged and raided the facility, which they accuse Hamas of using for militant operations. This accusation has been denied by Hamas and health officials. Employees responsible for tallying the dead have been scattered across the southern Gaza Strip, struggling to coordinate amidst the chaos.

The Impact of Inaccurate Numbers

The inability to maintain an accurate death toll has significant implications beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis. Accurate numbers matter because they can directly influence policy and the global sense of urgency. Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian human rights group al-Haq, emphasized the importance of these figures for history, transitional justice, and peace.

The Human Cost of Conflict

The situation in Gaza is a stark reminder of the human cost of conflict. Behind the numbers are stories of lives cut short, families torn apart, and communities devastated. The loss of the ability to count the dead is not just a logistical failure; it is a testament to the scale of the tragedy that has befallen the people of Gaza.

As the world watches, the need for a resolution to the conflict becomes ever more pressing. The dead may be uncountable, but they are not forgotten. Each number represents a human being whose life was lost in a war that shows no signs of abating. The international community must not only bear witness to this tragedy but also work towards a future where such a loss of life is no longer a reality.

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