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War on Gaza: Death toll from Israeli assault could exceed 186,000, Lancet warns

Letter published by experts in the medical journal estimated that some 10,000 people could still be buried in the rubble in Gaza
Palestinians stand on the rubble and debris of the Latin Patriarchate Holy Family School after it was hit during Israeli military bombardment, in Gaza City on 7 July 2024 (AFP)

A letter written by experts and published in the medical journal, the Lancet, estimates that the actual death toll of Palestinians killed in Gaza could exceed 186,000.

The official death toll of Palestinians killed since Israel’s war on Gaza began in October is 38,153, according to Gaza's health ministry.

However, the letter emphasised that this figure is likely a dramatic underestimate and does not account for the thousands of people buried under the rubble or for the mounting "indirect" deaths as a result of Israel's destruction of Gaza's food distribution, healthcare and sanitation systems.

"The total death toll is expected to be large given the intensity of this conflict; destroyed health-care infrastructure; severe shortages of food, water, and shelter; the population’s inability to flee to safe places; and the loss of funding to UNRWA, one of the very few humanitarian organizations still active in the Gaza Strip," the letter said.

The letter estimated that the number of bodies still buried in the rubble is likely to exceed 10,000, as 35 percent of Gaza’ buildings have been destroyed, according to UN data.

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Citing the transparency watchdog Airwars, which conducts detailed investigations of incidents of civilian harm in areas of conflict, the names of identifiable victims are often omitted from the ministry’s fatalities lists.

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It added that data collection is becoming increasingly difficult for the Gaza health ministry.

The destruction of much of the strip's infrastructure means it is having to rely on information from media sources and first responders to update its figures.

"This change has inevitably degraded the detailed data recorded previously," the letter said, adding that the ministry now reports separately the number of unidentified bodies among the total death toll.

The letter urged for an immediate ceasefire and the distribution of humanitarian aid in the strip. It also emphasised the need to accurately record "the scale and nature of suffering" in Gaza.

"Documenting the true scale is crucial for ensuring historical accountability and acknowledging the full cost of the war. It is also a legal requirement," it said.

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