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War on Gaza: US estimate shows Hamas death toll much less than Israel's aims

The Palestinian group has lost only 20-30 percent of its fighters and is far from being eradicated, US intelligence agencies conclude
A picture taken from a position in southern Israel along the border with the Gaza Strip shows an Israeli tank rolling along the fence as damaged buildings are see in the Gaza strip on 19 January 2024 (AFP)
A picture taken from a position in southern Israel along the border with the Gaza Strip shows an Israeli tank rolling along the fence as damaged buildings are see in the Gaza strip on 19 January 2024 (AFP)

US intelligence agencies estimate that Hamas has lost only 20-30 percent of its fighters since the beginning of the Israeli war on Gaza on 7 October.

The estimates, the first since the war, fall short of Israel's stated goal of "destroying" the Palestinian group, which was the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip before Israel's latest invasion. 

According to the intelligence report cited by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, Hamas is still capable of fighting Israeli troops and launching rockets into Israel "for months".

The report indicates that Israeli officials believe around 16,000 Hamas fighters have been wounded, with approximately half of them unlikely to return to the battlefield. However, US estimates suggest a range of 10,500 to 11,700 fighters, with the possibility of many returning to active duty.

The US newspaper reported that the Biden administration has therefore reduced their expectations for the war and urged Israel to change war tactics to carry out targeted operations against Hamas leaders. 

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A senior Israeli military official told the paper that Hamas's goal is "not to lose" and to survive the conflict, rather than to win.

Hamas's attack on Israel on 7 October resulted in the deaths of around 1,200 people, including 695 Israeli civilians and 373 combatants, according to the latest data by Israel's social security agency. More than 200 people, including civilians and soldiers, were taken back to Gaza as captives.

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The subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza has so far killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The campaign has prompted accusations of genocide against Israel and a case before the International Court of Justice lodged by South Africa requesting provisional measures to stop the war.

Most of Gaza's population of 2.3 million has been displaced by the war, and UN reports indicate that the Israeli-imposed siege has pushed the population to the brink of famine.

Hamas's armed wing, Qassam Brigades, has not declared the total number of its combatants or those who have been killed during hostilities. 

A classified US report in January, according to the WSJ, estimated that Hamas had between 25,000 and 30,000 combatants before the war, similar to Israeli estimates of at least 30,000.

Hamas resilient despite losses

Retired Army General Joseph Votel, who formerly commanded US military operations in the Middle East, told the WSJ that, according to his analysis, Hamas is still capable of continuing the fight despite its losses.

"One person might now have to do two or three jobs," he said.

Even in the north where Israeli attacks have destroyed a large part of the city, the group remains resilient, according to the WSJ.

"Hamas is attempting to reassert its authority by putting small groups of police and emergency services to patrol the streets," the newspaper wrote, citing Israeli officials and Palestinian residents. 

The report added that the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel from central Gaza is yet another indication of the group's resilience. 

An Israeli military officer also told the WSJ that authorities from the Hamas-run Palestinian interior ministry have even returned to Gaza City, including in areas previously seized by the Israeli army during the fighting.

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