Biden says he has ‘no confidence’ in Palestinian death count

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he has “no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using” for the death toll in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, where the health ministry says over 6,500 have been killed in Israeli attacks.

Biden was asked at a White House press conference whether the death count, which the ministry says includes some 2,700 children, meant Israel was ignoring U.S. appeals to reduce civilian deaths in its bombardment of the coastal enclave.

“What they say to me is I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed. I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war,” Biden said.

“(The) Israelis should be incredibly careful to be sure that they’re focusing on going after the folks that (are) propagating this war against Israel. And it’s against their interest when that doesn’t happen,” Biden added.

“But I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.”

Biden did not say why he was skeptical of the Palestinian figures.

Reuters has been unable to independently verify casualty figures in the fighting, which began with an Oct. 7 Hamas gun rampage in southern Israel that Israeli authorities say killed 1,400 people.

Palestinians reject the notion that the Gaza death count is inaccurate.

In the U.S., the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it was “deeply disturbed” by Biden’s comments on the Gaza figures, and called on the president to apologize.

“Journalists have confirmed the high number of casualties, and countless videos coming out of Gaza every day show mangled bodies of Palestinian women and children,” CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Biden said that Hamas was “hiding behind Palestinian civilians” in the densely-populated enclave, putting “an added burden on Israel while they go after Hamas.”

Biden added: “Israel has to do everything in its power, as difficult as it is, to protect innocent civilians.”

(This story has been refiled to add a dropped word in Biden’s quote in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Jarrett Renshaw, Kanishka Singh and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Grant McCool)