JERUSALEM – The Israeli military 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.
The claims were the latest salvo in what has become vastly different Israeli and Palestinian narratives of the war. Israel says the three-week offensive was aimed solely at Hamas militants, while Palestinians say hundreds of people were killed by an overwhelming show of force that showed little regard for civilians.
Israel's military said Thursday it had wrapped up an investigation and determined that a total of 1,166 people were killed in the operation. It said 709 were Hamas militants, while 295 were civilians, including 89 minors and 49 women. It was unclear whether an 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 were far different from 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.
The Palestinian center called the Israeli report "a deliberately manipulative attempt to distort the reality of the offensive and to disguise Israel's illegal actions." It claimed, for instance, that Israel wrongly classified 255 "noncombatant" police officers killed at the outset of the war as militants.
The heavy civilian death toll has caused an international uproar and fueled calls from human rights groups for a war crimes investigation against Israel.
An Israeli military school's publication of testimony last week, in which soldiers described wanton destruction and relaxed rules of engagement that may have caused unnecessary civilian deaths, has added to the uproar.
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 has blamed 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.