Gazans count the cost of war as death toll nears 30,000

The death toll is exponentially higher than that of the four previous Gaza wars combined


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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Tue 27 Feb 2024, 8:02 PM

Palestinian teacher Iman Mussallam says she is struggling to come to terms with the Gaza war's death toll nearing 30,000 after almost five months of conflict between Israel and Hamas.

But with many victims still trapped under the rubble of flattened buildings, the displaced Gaza woman says she is certain "the real number is greater than that".

"We don't know how many martyrs there will be when the war ends," added the 30-year-old, who has taken refuge at a crowded United Nations shelter in Gaza's far-southern city of Rafah.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war has brought a litany of horrors to the Palestinian territory of 2.4 million people.

The death toll is exponentially higher than that of the four previous Gaza wars combined.

Cemeteries are full, stocks of body bags have run short, and one bereaved farmer reported having to bury his three brothers and their five children in a citrus grove.

Some 1.5 million people gathered in Rafah are desperately hoping for a ceasefire, fearing yet more bloodshed if Israel launches its threatened ground assault on the city.

On Tuesday, the health ministry in Gaza said at least 29,878 people had been killed so far, and another 70,215 had been injured.

The toll highlights "the extent of the suffering of the Palestinian people" during the war, the effects of which "will remain for generations to come", said Ahmed Orabi, a professor at the Islamic University of Gaza.

The war erupted with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israeli border communities that claimed the lives of 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Israel has also been gripped by the desperate plight of about 250 hostages who were taken back to Gaza during the attack, as well as the fate of the estimated 130 still being held.

That attack unleashed an Israeli military offensive of unrelenting scale in a bid to hunt down the Hamas fighters who took part in the assault and the group's leaders.

Since the start of the war, the health ministry in Gaza has been tasked with the gruelling job of accounting for each of the dead and injured in the 40-kilometre (25-mile) sliver of land on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Hamas government is quick to point out that women and children account for some 70 per cent of the death toll.

It has not give the number of militants killed in the fighting. The Israeli army says some 10,000 Hamas fighters have been killed so far.

The Gaza health ministry also breaks down the figures into medical workers, members of the civil defence forces and journalists covering the conflict.

As of February 24, the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 88 media workers had been killed since the war began.

Israel questions the accuracy of the Hamas government figures, and denies deliberately targeting civilians, medical workers or journalists.

Gaza -- described by the head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as a "death zone" -- has become a place of perpetual mourning.

Not a day has gone by without a funeral in Gaza, though harsh wartime conditions have forced residents to improvise even as they grieve.

Overworked staff at under-equipped hospitals have had to use alternative forms of refrigeration before burials, including an ice-cream truck.

Elsewhere, a mass grave was dug at a dirt football field.

Bodies have been transported by donkey carts because of a lack of fuel.

Even the dead are not totally at peace, with Israel admitting it has exhumed some bodies from cemeteries as part of its efforts to identify hostages who may have been killed in the war.

"Bodies determined not (to) be those of hostages are returned with dignity and respect," the military has said.

Some 31 hostages are believed to have been killed, according to Israeli figures.

Mussallam called what has happened in Gaza "the largest massacre in modern history", but also blamed Hamas for carrying out the attack then retreating to its tunnels under Gaza.

With civilians largely paying the price, she asked, "how is it our fault?"


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