UN says Gaza death toll still over 35,000 but not all bodies identified

An Israeli tank holds a position, near the Israel-Gaza border

By Michelle Nichols and Emma Farge

UNITED NATIONS/GENEVA (Reuters) - The death toll in the Gaza Strip from the Israel-Hamas war is still more than 35,000, but the enclave's Ministry of Health has updated its breakdown of the fatalities, the United Nations said on Monday after Israel questioned a sudden change in numbers.

U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said the ministry's figures - cited regularly by the U.N. its reporting on the seven-month-long conflict - now reflected a breakdown of the 24,686 deaths of "people who have been fully identified."

"There's about another 10,000 plus bodies who still have to be fully identified, and so then the details of those - which of those are children, which of those are women - that will be re-established once the full identification process is complete," Haq told reporters in New York.

Israel last week questioned why the figures for the deaths of women and children has suddenly halved.

Haq said those figures were for identified bodies - 7,797 children, 4,959 women, 1,924 elderly, and 10,006 men - adding: "The Ministry of Health says that the documentation process of fully identifying details of the casualties is ongoing."

Oren Marmorstein, spokesperson for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Monday accused Palestinian militants Hamas of manipulating the numbers, saying: "They are not accurate and they do not reflect the reality on the ground."

"The parroting of Hamas' propaganda messages without the use of any verification process has proven time and again to be methodologically flawed and unprofessional," he said in a social media post.

Haq said U.N. teams in Gaza were not able to independently verify the Gaza Ministry of Health (MoH) figures given the ongoing war and sheer number of fatalities.

"Unfortunately we have the sad experience of coordinating with the Ministry of Health on casualty figures every few years for large mass casualty incidents in Gaza, and in past times their figures have proven to be generally accurate," Haq said.

The World Health Organization "has a long-standing cooperation with the MoH in Gaza and we can attest that MoH has good capacity in data collection/analysis and its previous reporting has been considered credible," said WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris.

"Real numbers could be even higher," she said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Emma Farge, additional reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by David Gregorio)