An Italian reporter who entered the Gaza Strip following the recent Israeli assault on Hamas there wrote in his newspaper on Thursday that the casualty figures announced by Hamas and so eagerly passed on by the UN, Red Cross and foreign media were grossly exaggerated.
At most, five or six hundred Palestinians died in Gaza over the past month, according to Lorenzo Cremonesi, a correspondent for Italy's Corriere della Sera. The foreign media has carried numerous sources citing Hamas and UN officials claiming in excess of 1,300 killed.
But Cremonesi explained, "It is sufficient to visit several hospitals [in the Gaza Strip] to understand that the numbers don't add up." He noted that in nearly all of Gaza's major hospitals, and especially those in major conflict zones, he found most beds empty.
On top of that, Cremonesi reported that a doctor at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital who asked to remain anonymous for fear of Hamas acknowledged that the death toll had been inflated. He also told the reporter that many of the dead were "youths between the ages of 17 to 23 who were recruited to the ranks of Hamas and then sent them to the slaughter."
Cremonesi also wrote that Gazans he interviewed confirmed Israeli accusations of Hamas war crimes, especially the deliberate use of the civilian population as human shields.
When local Gazans demanded that Hamas and its allies not take up positions near them, one interviewee said the terrorists responded:
"Traitors, collaborators with Israel, spies of Fatah, cowards! The soldiers of the holy war will punish you. And in any case you will all die, like us. Fighting the Zionist Jews we are all destined for paradise. Do you not wish to die with us?"
Others recounted how Hamas gunmen had disguised themselves as paramedics and commandeered ambulances to avoid being targeted by the Israelis, and how UN facilities were in fact used as launch pads for rockets and mortar shells.