Text size

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday disputed Palestinian claims that most of the people killed in the recent Gaza Strip war were civilians, claiming the vast majority of the dead were Hamas militants.

An army spokeswoman said Thursday that the military had completed an investigation and determined that a total of 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the operation. It found that 709 were Hamas militants, while 295 were civilians, including 89 minors and 49 women. It was unclear whether another 162 men who died were militants or civilians.

"We have a list of names. We have based our conclusions on a number of sources, including Palestinian sources and intelligence sources of different kinds," said Maj. Avital Leibovich.

The figures clashed with numbers released last week by the Palestine Center for Human Rights, which said 1,417 people were killed, including more than 900 civilians. Its toll included the names and ages of all of the dead.

It should be noted that the IDF's figures are also different from those given on Wednesday by the Defense Ministry, which said that more than 1,370 Palestinians, including at least 309 non-combatants, were killed during Operation Cast Lead.

The Palestinian center Thursday called the Israeli report a deliberately manipulative attempt to distort the reality of the offensive and to disguise Israel's illegal actions. It said, for instance, that Israel wrongly classified 255 noncombatant police officers killed at the outset of the war as militants.

The heavy civilian death toll caused an international outcry and fueled calls from human rights groups for a war crimes investigation against Israel.

The military's report was unlikely to resolve the debate over the death toll. While Leibovich said the army's information was checked, crisscrossed and double-checked with the different intelligence bodies in Israel, the army did not provide its list of names.

When asked to explain the discrepancy, she said "you have to ask your Palestinian sources" and acknowledged it was not a precise science.

"We are receiving different information from different sources, the majority of which is not based on hard evidence," she said. "I can tell you for a fact that our information is checked according to different intelligence organizations and Palestinian authorities and these are the right figures."

Israel waged the war in Gaza in an attempt to weaken Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, and halt persistent rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli border towns.

Israel blames Hamas for the heavy civilian casualties, saying the group launches attacks from schools and residential areas and uses civilians as human shields to deter Israeli attacks.