JERUSALEM - An Israeli cabinet minister described as "loony" on Thursday an account by US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of the number of Palestinian civilians killed in the 2014 Gaza war that went well beyond any official assessments.
Zeev Elkin, Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Immigrant Absorption, commenting on an interview by the Vermont senator in the New York Daily News on Monday, took a forgiving tack, saying politicians "sometimes make mistakes" in the heat of a campaign.
"I don't remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?" Sanders told the newspaper. "I do believe and I don't think I'm alone in believing that Israel's force was more indiscriminate than it should have been."
Sanders, who trails Hillary Clinton in the pledged delegates needed to win the nomination ahead of the Democratic party's July convention in Philadelphia, also criticized Gaza militants for launching rockets at Israel from civilian areas.
The war killed around 2,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza officials, Israel and foreign observers. The Palestinians say most of the dead were civilians. Israel says more than half were fighters. Israel lost 67 soldiers and six civilians in the war.
Asked about Sanders' toll, Elkin, using the Israeli military's term for the Gaza war, said in a radio interview: "Anyone who knows a little about what happened in Operation Protective Edge understands that this was a weird and loony statement."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has kept out of the often acrimonious US election race - a practice that Elkin, one of his closest cabinet colleagues, endorsed.
"What is ultimately important is what they (candidates) do and not what they say in election campaigns," Elkin, who serves as minister for Jerusalem and immigration, told Israel Radio.
"Therefore I recommend to us all that we get a little less excited about this-or-that statement that is made."