Barbara Leaf, wearing a red blazer and white scarf, speaks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf testifies during a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 2023.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Contradicting Biden, US Official Says Gaza Death Toll May Be 'Even Higher' Than Reported

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf also accused Hamas—but not Israel—of "genocide" and was confronted by CodePink activists, one of whom was arrested.

Contradicting her bosses in the Biden administration who have rejected official Palestinian casualty reports, a high-ranking U.S. State Department official on Wednesday said the death toll from Israel's war on Gaza may be "even higher" than reported—an assessment that came during a congressional hearing interrupted by peace activists.

"In this period of conflict and conditions of war, it is very difficult for any of us to assess what the rate of casualties are," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "We think they're very high, frankly, and it could be that they're even higher than are being cited. We'll know only after the guns fall silent."

"We take in sourcing from a variety of folks who are on the ground," she added. "I can't stipulate to one figure or another, it's very possible they're even higher than is being reported."

Leaf's remarks stood in stark contrast with those of President Joe Biden, who was accused of "genocide denial" last month after he expressed "no confidence" in Palestinian health officials' Gaza casualty reports—figures deemed reliable by United Nations agencies, human rights groups, and Israeli and international media.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken—who heads an agency that has often cited Gaza Health Ministry casualty figures—and other Biden administration officials have also cast aspersions upon Palestinian officials' reports, with National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby last month calling the ministry "just a front for Hamas."

The Gaza Health Ministry said Thursday that Israel's relentless asssault on Gaza by air, land, and sea has killed at least 10,812 people—including more than 4,400 children and 2,900 women—while wounding nearly 27,000 others and forcibly displacing around 70% of the strip's 2.3 million residents.

On Wednesday, Vedant Patel, the State Department's principal deputy spokesperson, said during a press briefing that the U.S. government has "a rigorous process for evaluating whether something constitutes genocide, and we have not made that assessment in this case."

At least hundreds of jurists and other experts, including one of Israel's leading Holocaust scholars, have accused Israeli forces of genocidal violence in Gaza.

Members of the women-led peace group CodePink confronted Leaf and Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for the Middle East Dana Stroul during Wednesday's hearing.

When Leaf and Stroul responded affirmatively to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul's (R-Texas) question of whether Hamas committed genocide by killing over 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers during an October 7 surprise attack on Israel, one CodePink activist shouted, "What about Israel?"

CodePink's Leslie Angeline—who is currently on a hunger strike for a Gaza cease-fire—yelled out, "It's a genocide!"

"It's slaughter! It's genocide! It's ethnic cleansing! That's the truth," Angeline shouted as she was forcibly removed from the chamber by a U.S. Capitol Police officer and arrested.

"Call it what it is! Call it by its name," she added. "You're slaughtering Gazans!"

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