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Over 25,000 Palestinian women and children killed in Gaza, US defence secretary says

The number mentioned by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin seems to exceed casualty figures previously released by Palestinian health ministry in Gaza
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies during a hearing before House Armed Services Committee in Washington, DC, on 29 February 2024 (Alex Wong/AFP)

During a congressional hearing on Thursday in Washington, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that since 7 October, over 25,000 Palestinian women and children have been killed by Israel in the war on Gaza.

The statement came as an answer to a question from Congressman Ro Khanna in a hearing called, "A Review of Defense Secretary Austin's Unannounced Absense", by the House Armed Services Committee.

The hearing focused on the extended delay in Austin informing both legislators and President Joe Biden of his whereabouts after being admitted to hospital for treatment of prostate cancer in December. 

"About how many Palestinian women and children have been killed by Israel since October 7th?" Khanna asked.

"It's over 25,000," Austin responded.

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Khanna then quoted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, saying that any transfer of any weapons or ammunition to Israel violates international law and asked Austin how many transfers of precision-guided munitions the US had sent to Israel since the beginning of the war.

"I don't have that number at my fingertips," Austin began, when he was cut off by Khanna saying, "It's about 21,000 precision-guided munitions."

In response to a question regarding the measures Israel is implementing to safeguard civilians, Austin said that "based upon the results and the significant loss of life, there’s more that should be done".

The number mentioned by the US defence secretary seems to greatly exceed the casualty figures previously released by the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza.

The overall death count has just surpassed 30,000, while at least 7,000 are still missing, according to the health ministry.

Although a detailed breakdown has not been provided, the health ministry has indicated in recent weeks that approximately 70 percent of the fatalities are women and children.

Based on Austin's comments, it appears that over 80 percent of the casualties in Gaza are women and children.

Deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a statement: "The Secretary’s answer was citing an estimate from the Hamas-controlled health ministry that more than 25,000 total Palestinians have been killed in Gaza. We cannot independently verify these Gaza casualty figures." 

This comes on Thursday when the Palestinian health ministry reported that an attack by Israeli forces on an aid convoy in Gaza City's al-Rasheed Street resulted in at least 104 Palestinian deaths and injuries to hundreds more, describing the event as a "massacre".

In Gaza City, residents had assembled in search of food, as Israeli forces had entirely blocked access to aid in the area.

Non-governmental organisations and United Nations experts have expressed concerns over a potential famine in northern Gaza, with incidents of starvation reported, affecting individuals of all ages, including infants. At least two infants have died from starvation.

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