'World duped by Hamas death count'
Feb. 15, 2009
Yaakov Katz , THE JERUSALEM POST
Four weeks after the cessation of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF finally opened its dossier on Palestinian fatalities on Sunday for the first time, and presented to The Jerusalem Post an overview utterly at odds with the Palestinian figures that have hitherto formed the basis for assessing the conflict.
While the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, whose death toll figures have been widely cited, reports that 895 Gaza civilians were killed in the fighting, amounting to more than two-thirds of all fatalities, the IDF figures shown to the Post on Sunday put the civilian death toll at no higher than a third of the total.
The international community had been given a vastly distorted impression of the death toll because of "false reporting" by Hamas, said Col. Moshe Levi, the head of the IDF's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), which compiled the IDF figures.
As an example of such distortion, he cited the incident near a UN school in Jabalya on January 6, in which initial Palestinian reports falsely claimed IDF shells had hit the school and killed 40 or more people, many of them civilians.
In fact, he said, 12 Palestinians were killed in the incident - nine Hamas operatives and three noncombatants. Furthermore, as had since been acknowledged by the UN, the IDF was returning fire after coming under attack, and its shells did not hit the school compound.
"From the beginning, Hamas claimed that 42 people were killed, but we could see from our surveillance that only a few stretchers were brought in to evacuate people," said Levi, adding that the CLA contacted the PA Health Ministry and asked for the names of the dead. "We were told that Hamas was hiding the number of dead."
As a consequence of the false information, he added, the IDF was considering setting up a "response team" for future conflicts whose job would be to collect information, analyze it and issue reports as rapidly as possible that refuted Hamas fabrications.
Basing its work on the official Palestinian death toll of 1,338, Levi said the CLA had now identified more than 1,200 of the Palestinian fatalities. Its 200-page report lists their names, their official Palestinian Authority identity numbers, the circumstances in which they were killed and, where appropriate, the terrorist group with which they were affiliated.
The CLA said 580 of these 1,200 had been conclusively "incriminated" as members of Hamas and other terrorist groups.
Another 300 of the 1,200 - women, children aged 15 and younger and men over the age of 65 - had been categorized as noncombatants, the CLA said.
Counted among the women, however, were female terrorists, including at least two women who tried to blow themselves up next to forces from the Givati and Paratroopers' Brigades. Also classed as noncombatants were the wives and children of Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas military commander who refused to allow his family to leave his home even after he was warned by Israel that it would be bombed.
The 320 names yet to be classified are all men; the IDF has yet complete its identification work in these cases, but estimates that two-thirds of them were terror operatives.
The CLA gave the Post the names of several fatalities who it said had been classified by the Palestinians as "medics," but who it stated were Hamas fighters, including Anas Naim, the nephew of Hamas Health Minister Bassem Naim, who was killed during clashes with the IDF on January 4 in the Sheikh Ajlin neighborhood of Gaza City.
Following the clashes, the Palestinian press reported that Naim was killed and that he was a medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent. The Gaza CLA, however, produced photographs of Naim posing holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a Kalashnikov assault rifle that had been posted on a Hamas Web site.
Levi stressed that on no occasion were civilians deliberately targeted, and that every effort was made to minimize civilian casualties.
Work on the death toll list was started during Operation Cast Lead under Levi's direction. A special team was set up and led by an officer in the CLA who coordinated efforts with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and worked from statistics and information on the dead from the Hamas Health Ministry, the media in Gaza, and other Palestinian and Israeli intelligence sources.
Much controversy and confusion has surrounded the number of Palestinian noncombatants killed during Israel's three-week campaign against Hamas, with the IDF and the Shin Bet refusing to release official numbers to refute Hamas allegations. Israeli estimates were intermittently leaked to the press but not published in official press statements.
This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1233304788684&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull
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