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UN Rapporteur Faces Backlash Over Reposting Letter Alleging 186,000 Gaza Casualties

Controversial claim on Gaza war casualties sparks heated debate.

The United Nations’ special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories has recently circulated a highly contested claim from a medical journal, alleging that 186,000 people have been killed in Gaza due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

Francesca Albanese, in a post on X/Twitter, stated, “If one includes both direct & indirect deaths from Israel’s assault, the death toll in Gaza goes up to 186,000 people, according to the medical journal [The Lancet]. That’s 1 in every 12 Gaza inhabitants killed in the last 9 months of genocide.”

The claim originates from a one-page correspondence letter published in The Lancet, a prominent medical journal, titled “Counting the Dead in Gaza: Difficult but Essential.” The letter estimates that up to 186,000 Palestinians may have died, based on the Hamas-supplied figure of 37,396 casualties, which the authors multiplied by five, referencing previous research suggesting a high ratio of indirect to direct deaths in conflict zones. This letter, however, was not a peer-reviewed study.

Critics have vehemently criticized the letter’s methodology. Salo Aizenberg, a board member with Honest Reporting, called the letter “fraudulent,” highlighting that Hamas-controlled health authorities already include indirect deaths in their casualty figures. Aizenberg argued that the letter's authors “double count deaths with multiplier,” given that indirect death numbers, typically due to famine, disease, and lack of medical care, are already part of United Nations reports.

The letter also inaccurately claimed that casualty figures from Hamas-controlled authorities are accepted by Israeli intelligence, a claim Israel disputes. Israel has long accused Hamas of inflating casualty numbers to damage its international standing. Experts have raised concerns about the reliability of casualty figures from Gaza, noting issues with overcounting civilian deaths and not distinguishing between civilians and combatants.

The letter's authors claim that Gaza authorities have had to "augment" their casualty figures using data from third parties like media sources and first responders. Aizenberg questioned this assertion, noting the lack of reputable international media presence in Gaza and the absence of evidence from Hamas about first responders counting bodies. The authors also cited contradictory data regarding the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, stating both 35 percent and 12 percent destruction based on different sources.

Despite these flaws, the letter gained significant traction on social media.

Albanese has a history of using her UN role to criticize Israel and seemingly justify Hamas' attacks. Following Hamas’ assault on Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in over 1,200 Israeli deaths, Albanese accused Israel of committing “genocide” against Palestinians in retaliation.

The United Nations is currently investigating Albanese for allegedly accepting a trip to Australia funded by pro-Hamas organizations. She has also praised anti-Israel protests on US college campuses, calling them a “revolution” and a source of “hope.”

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