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On Gaza, UN's "62 Civilian Casualties" Misstatement Goes Global, On Wires, Wall Street and Sky News

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, December 30 -- A number of civilians killed in Gaza, 62, that the UN put out on Monday and then later qualified has nevertheless gone all over the world without the qualification attached, thus understating the deaths of non-combatants. UN Humanitarian Coorindator John Holmes on Monday told the Press that "on the Palestinian side, there's something like 320 dead... sixty two of those killed we believe are civilian casualties." Video here, from Minute 7:50. Holmes went on, "that simply encompasses those who are women and children."

  Inner City Press asked Holmes, who made the decision to use a methodology which excluded all men? Holmes replied that it is not a methodology, and emphasized that the number is only for women and children. Video here, from Minute 48:34.

   But the phrase "62 of those killed we believe are civilian casualties," which Holmes himself read out from a prepared statement, went out on wire services, leavened by what credibility the UN has.

   Associated Press reported that "the UN said at least 62 of the dead were civilians." The same phrase then showed up in an article in the Washington Times bylined by Richard Gross, "At least 62 of the dead were civilians, the U.N. said."

  Reuters followed in what they called a "Fact Box" that "the Israeli strikes have killed at least 335 Palestinians, including at least 62 civilians."

  The Wall Street Journal dropped the phrase "at least" and reported on "casualties, which United Nations estimated Monday at 320 dead, including 62 civilians."  From there it continued, from Sky News to Radio Netherlands, from India to Turkey and beyond.

  So who is responsible? And what will be done to correct this?

UN's John Holmes and Ban Ki-moon, decision-making on casualty under-reporting not disclosed

    While the UN might like to blame sloppy reporting, Holmes used the phrase "sixty two of those killed we believe are civilian casualties." Tuesday, after the UN postponed and then cancelled a scheduled press conference by its Middle East envoy Robert Serry, Inner City Press asked for another briefing by Holmes and Karen AbuZayd of UNRWA, on topics specifically including the numbers and how the decisions were made. We'll see.

As previously reported, Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev on December 23 met with Ban Ki-moon. Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe, at that day's noon briefing, what the meeting had been about.  That the expiration of the cease fire in Gaza would have been discussed seemed obvious. The question was intended to glean whether any statement as to timing had been made by the Israeli Ambassador. "We'll get you a readout," Ms. Okabe said. Video here.

   Later on December 23, Ban's Spokesperson's Office sent Inner City Press the following:

From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 12/23/2008 3:31:10 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: Your question at noon

Regarding the Secretary-General's meeting with the Israeli Permanent Representative today, it was purely a courtesy call.

   "Purely a courtesy call"? That is the phrase used when diplomats who are leaving the UN visit the 38th floor for a final photo opportunity with the Secretary-General. We'll see.

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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