GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Between 200 and 300 members of Hamas' armed wing died in Israel's winter offensive on Gaza, the local interior minister acknowledged in remarks published Monday.
Fathi Hamad told the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat that "They say it was the people who paid the toll of that war, but aren’t we [Hamas] part of this people?"
He added: "Furthermore, on the second day of the war, Israel targeted police headquarters and 250 martyrs fell and they were affiliated to Hamas and other factions. In addition, about 200-300 members of Al-Qassam Brigades died martyrs as well as 150 security officers; the rest of the victims were civilians."
The Hamas official also explained that the death toll on the Israeli side was 50, despite Israel's acknowledged toll of 13, including three civilians and four soldiers killed in a friendly fire incident.
There is disagreement among about the precise number of Palestinians killed in the 2008-2009 operation.
The Israeli military insists that only 1,166 Palestinians were killed during the war, of whom 709 were combatants, including all members of the civil police. Israel acknowledges that it killed 295 civilians.
Israel's numbers stand in contrast to multiple assessments during and after the 3-week offensive.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has reported that Israel's offensive left 1,417 Palestinians dead, including 926 civilians, 255 police officers, and 236 fighters.
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem reported that 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. B'Tselem said in a 2009 report on the war that 248 police officers were killed by Israeli attacks on police stations. But, the group said, it was unable to determine whether these officers were a legitimate target.
"B’Tselem knows that many police officers in the Gaza Strip are also members of the military wings of Palestinian armed groups, and might take part in hostilities against Israel," the report said. "However, without concrete information on integration of police officers in the combat forces of Hamas, and taking into account the assumption that persons are deemed civilians unless proven otherwise, B’Tselem is unable to determine that all the police officers were legitimate targets and that the Palestinian police in Gaza, as an institution, is part of the combat forces of Hamas, all of whose members carry out a continuous combat function."