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Death Toll in Gaza Passes 30,000

The death toll in Gaza passed a somber milestone on Thursday as the local health ministry reported that more than 30,000 people had been killed in the war since Oct. 7.

The number of deaths since Israel launched its military offensive against Hamas in Gaza had already surpassed the tolls of any previous Arab conflict with Israel when it rose above 20,000 in December. Many experts say the official toll is very likely an undercount, given the difficulty of accurately tallying deaths amid unrelenting fighting, communications disruptions, a collapsing medical system and people still believed to be under rubble.

Still, the reported figure is staggering — roughly one person killed for every 73 Palestinians in Gaza, whose population is about 2.2 million.

The figures provided by the Gazan health ministry do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Many international observers have said they believe that the ministry’s overall toll is reliable, while the proportion of Hamas-affiliated fighters among those killed remains unclear.

An article published in November in the British medical journal The Lancet said that an analysis of the first weeks of mortality reports from the health ministry “suggested reasonable data quality” and that the deaths were “among Gazan population groups that are likely to be largely civilian.”

Israel has come under growing international pressure to stop its offensive, and even President Biden, its strongest ally, has expressed growing frustration with the rising death toll and worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But Israeli leaders have insisted that they will continue fighting in order to eliminate Hamas, the armed group that led the Oct. 7 attack on Israel in which officials say at least 1,200 people were killed and 240 others taken hostage, setting off the war.

U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators are working to broker a cease-fire and the release of hostages, but the prospects of that remain murky.

On Wednesday, Hamas’s political leader said in a televised speech that while the group was open to making a deal with Israel, it was also ready to continue fighting. He called on Palestinians to march to the Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem in March, raising the prospect of fresh clashes with Israeli security forces around a site holy to both Muslims and Jews.

In addition to bearing the risk of being killed in strikes or fighting, Palestinians are living with the growing specter of famine and disease.

The health ministry has said infants have died from dehydration and malnutrition in recent days. A physician who was in Gaza in late January told CBS’s “60 Minutes” this week that people were dying “in a fully treatable situation” because of the lack of basic medical supplies.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said on Thursday in a social media post marking the 30,000 deaths that most of those killed in Gaza were women and children.

“This horrific violence and suffering must end,” he wrote. “Cease-fire.”

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