Israel revises Oct. 7 death toll down to 1,200 as long process of identifying victims nears close

By Philissa Cramer

A haredi volunteer for the ZAKA emergency response service searches through the debris in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the border with Gaza, on October 20, 2023. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP via Getty Images, via JTA

(JTA) — Israel has revised the number of people known to have been killed during the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, dropping its official estimate from 1,400 to 1,200 over the weekend.

The change, announced in a statement from an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, comes more than a month after the attack, in which Hamas terrorists targeted dozens of locations in southern Israel, and reflects the challenges that Israeli authorities have faced in assessing the scale of the devastation. Hamas wounded thousands in the attack and took more than 200 people captive.

In some cases, emergency responders have said, bodies were so burned or otherwise damaged that it was challenging to identify how many people remains belonged to. Only through meticulous collection of biological material and the use of DNA technology have officials been able to determine the identities of the people killed.

In other cases, officials have said bodies of Hamas terrorists might have initially been mistaken for Israeli victims. Israeli soldiers and civilians killed about 1,500 attackerd that day, according to government estimates.

In addition, some people initially thought to be dead are now believed to be hostages in Gaza. The estimated number of hostages has risen in the weeks since the attack, as Israel has gathered intelligence and ruled out the presence of bodies of people who are missing.

The number of Oct. 7 victims could rise again. Some people who had officially been considered missing were revealed this week to be dead, including Roni Eshel, whose passion for Taylor Swift had prompted the singer’s dedicated fans to lobby on her behalf, and Oren Goldin, who was originally thought to be a hostage and whose body remains in Gaza. A woman who had been hospitalized since Oct. 7 died last week. And it is unclear how many of the hostages, who range from 10 months to over 80 years old, are alive; some are known to have been seriously wounded in the initial attack.

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