The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza has released a list of 6,747 people it said had been killed in Israel’s relentless bombardment of the Palestinian territory in retaliation for the Hamas-led raid on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel.
The release of the document on Thursday evening served as a sharp retort to President Biden’s comments to reporters at the White House a day earlier, when he said that he had “no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.”
The list includes the name, age, gender and ID number of each person killed, including those of 2,665 children. The ministry said it did not name an additional 281 people who had been killed because their bodies could not be identified, bringing the total to 7,028.
Also excluded were people believed to be still under the rubble and considered missing, those buried without being admitted to a hospital and those whose deaths had not been recorded by hospitals, it said, raising the possibility that the toll could be far higher.
The Ministry of Health, which is part of the Hamas government in Gaza but employs civil servants who predate Hamas’s control of the territory, did not say why it had decided to publish the names of the dead. But it came after Mr. Biden said that he had “no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed.” He also added, “I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war.”
Mr. Biden did not explain his skepticism. Others have cast doubt on the soaring death toll cited in part because the Health Ministry is, ultimately, overseen by Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007, after winning elections there and then battling the Palestinian Authority in the streets for control. The United States has long considered the Islamist political and militant group a terrorist organization.
On Thursday, when pressed about the doubt Mr. Biden cast on the death toll numbers coming from the Gaza Health Ministry, John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, called the ministry “a front for Hamas,” but said the Biden administration did not dispute that thousands of Palestinians had been killed.
Some uncertainty has been sowed by the varying figures that Gazan health officials initially gave to reporters for the number of people killed in the Oct. 17 explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, which ranged from 500 to 833 before they announced a final count of 471.
Hamas blamed the deaths on an Israeli airstrike; Israel, backed by U.S., French and British intelligence assessments, says an errant Palestinian rocket was responsible. A U.S. assessment estimated that 100 to 300 people had been killed in the blast, though officials said they had only low confidence in that estimate.
Amid the Israeli bombardment and restrictions on entering Gaza, there is no way to independently verify the number of casualties in the coastal strip. The ministry says that it collates daily reports from morgues and hospitals across Gaza, which count the bodies they receive and people who die after arriving at hospitals.
The United Nations, aid groups, international rights groups and news outlets including The New York Times have relied on the Health Ministry’s numbers in the current conflict, as well as in previous hostilities. Ministry statistics have been considered credible enough that the U.S. State Department cited them for previous conflicts in a report released this year.
In the past, the United Nations has worked to verify casualties on both sides of the conflict, generally requiring at least two independent and reliable sources, but a spokesman said on Thursday that it was nearly impossible in the current violence to perform day-to-day checks. The spokesman, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the United Nations was still relying on the Health Ministry’s casualty figures.
Human Rights Watch, a leading international rights group that has conducted its own investigations of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in the past, has found death tolls that are consistent with the ministry’s, Omar Shakir, the group’s Israel and Palestine director, said on Thursday.
He and other critics of the Israeli bombing campaign said the back-and-forth over the accuracy of the ministry’s count was a distraction from the true issue: the killings themselves.
“As the debate focuses on death tolls, the bodies continue to pile up,” Mr. Shakir said. “Our focus should be on how to prevent further mass atrocities, instead of debating whether or not the number is exactly accurate or not. We know that Palestinians are being killed in unprecedentedly high numbers, and that needs to end.”
How much Hamas, which brooks little dissent within Gaza, influences ministry statistics — or whether it does at all — is unclear. The ministry predates Hamas’s control of Gaza, said Ibrahim Dalalsha, director of the Horizon Center, a Palestinian political research group.
Mr. Shakir said that while he considered the ministry’s tally of the total number of people killed in Gaza reliable, Gaza health officials had sometimes counted those killed by errant rockets fired by Hamas and its allies alongside those killed in airstrikes, as well as counting combatants alongside civilians, making it difficult to say with certainty how many civilians had been killed because of the Israeli bombardment.
But photographs, videos and satellite imagery point to widespread destruction in Gaza that Mr. Shakir said could plausibly result in the high casualties reported by Gaza’s Health Ministry. Doctors, aid workers and Gaza residents also report witnessing an ever-growing number of deaths.
Israel said on Wednesday that it had struck more than 7,000 targets since Oct. 7, including houses, mosques, malls and other civilian buildings, in Gaza, a densely populated area.
The data released on Thursday indicated that families were being decimated in the violence. The first 88 names on the list belong to the same extended family: the Al Astals of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.
So many have died that Gazans are burying their dead in mass graves, said Marwan Jilani, director general of the Palestinian Red Crescent. He added that Red Crescent emergency responders on the ground in Gaza, who he said were seeing between a third and a quarter of all deaths, had responded to 2,209 deaths by Thursday. Because morgues had run out of space, Mr. Jilani said, emergency responders had put some bodies in ice cream trucks.
“The destruction is clear for everyone to see — death is everywhere,” he said. “You just need to know a few people in Gaza to understand that every family has lost tens of people.”
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting.