Pentagon walks back Austin’s Gaza casualty figures

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 1:08 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Thursday that more than 25,000 women and children had been killed by Israel in Gaza since October 7, but the Pentagon later clarified that estimate, saying the figure came from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, not U.S. intelligence.

During a congressional hearing, Austin was asked how many Palestinian women and children had been killed by Israel and Austin replied: “It is over 25,000.”

A few hours later, Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokesperson, said that Austin was citing an estimate from the Gaza health ministry and was referring to total Palestinians killed, not just women and children.

“We cannot independently verify these Gaza casualty figures,” Singh said in a statement.

In late January, Palestinian health officials said the death toll from Israeli strikes had passed 25,000. That number, according to the Gaza health ministry, is now over 30,000 Palestinians.

Gaza health authorities said more than 100 Palestinians had been shot dead by Israeli forces as they waited for an aid delivery on Thursday, but Israel challenged the death toll and said many of the victims had been run over by aid trucks.

Austin, during the hearing, also added that about 21,000 precision guided munitions had been provided to Israel since the start of its war in Gaza.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; editing by Diane Craft)