Director of National Intelligence: U.S. does not take Gaza casualty numbers ‘on face value’

Avril Haines said the ‘challenge’ with citing Hamas-collected figures is they do not distinguish between civilians and Hamas fighters

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Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines arrives at a hearing with the House (Select) Intelligence Committee in the Cannon Office Building on March 12, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that the U.S. does not “take on face value” Gaza casualty numbers provided by the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, after multiple recent instances when U.S. officials have referenced those figures.

Haines said at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, alongside other intelligence community leaders, the U.S. primarily relies on figures provided by Israel, but emphasized those numbers are generally close to those provided by Hamas’ health ministry.

“We really don’t have our own collection to be able to tell you with real confidence what the numbers are,” Haines said. “We also talk to and largely rely on our Israeli counterparts, and the numbers are not that different.”

Haines said that “the challenge” with the figures from the health ministry is that they don’t distinguish between civilian casualties and Hamas fighters — describing all casualties as civilians. 

CIA Director Bill Burns, who has been a key negotiator in the latest rounds of cease-fire and hostage release talks, appeared to attempt to temper expectations for a deal, while still stressing the importance of such an agreement.

“I think there’s still the possibility of such a deal… It won’t be for lack of trying on our part,” Burns said. “This is a very tough process. I don’t think anyone can guarantee success. The only thing I think you can guarantee is that the alternatives are worse” for Palestinian civilians, the hostages and their families.

“As long as there’s the smallest possibility,” he continued, “I think it’s essential for all of us to do everything we can.”

The CIA director also suggested that Israel’s goal of fully eliminating Hamas will not be possible through military force alone.

“Military force can severely degrade the terrorist military capacities of any terrorist group, and that’s a fairly well-defined goal,” Burns said. But he added that destroying the “movement or an idea or ideology,” like that which drives Hamas, can only happen “with a better idea.”

“Setting aside, for a second, the understandable goal of destroying the capacity of a terrorist group, I think you have to provide more broadly — and this is more a function of policy and diplomacy than intelligence — a sense of hope, a sense of purpose, in this case for Palestinians, so that there’s a way of undermining the ideology of groups like Hamas.”

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