The number of Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead did not exceed five or six hundred, Lorenzo Cremonesi, a correspondent for Italy's Corriere della sera reported on Thursday.
Cremonesi based his report on tours of hospitals in the Gaza Strip and on interviews with families of casualties. He also assessed the number of wounded to be far lower than 5,000, the number quoted by Hamas and repeated by the UN and the Red Cross in Gaza.
"It is sufficient to visit several hospitals [in the Gaza Strip] to understand that the numbers don't add up," he wrote.
In the European hospital in Rafah, one of the facilities which would presumably be filled with wounded from the "war of the tunnels," many beds were empty, according to Cremonesi. A similar situation was noted in the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, and in the privately-run Amal Hospital Cremonesi reported that only five out 150 beds were occupied.
Cremonesi interviewed Gazans who echoed Israel's insistence of how Hamas gunmen used civilians as human shields. One Gazan recalled civilians in Gaza shouting at Hamas and Islamic Jihad men, "Go away, go away from here! Do you want the Israelis to kill us all? Do you want our children to die under their bombs? Take your guns and missiles with you."
"Traitors, collaborators with Israel, spies of Fatah, cowards! The soldiers of the holy war will punish you. And in any case you will all die, like us. Fighting the Zionist Jews we are all destined for paradise. Do you not wish to die with us?" the religious fanatics of Hamas reportedly responded.
Other Palestinians told Cremonesi of Hamas operatives donning paramedic uniforms and commandeering ambulances. A woman identified as Um Abdullah, 48, spoke of Hamas using UN buildings as launch pads for rockets.
Cremonesi reported that he had difficultly gathering evidence as the local population was terrified of Hamas.