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Lebanon Sees More Than 1,000 War Deaths

December 28, 2006 GMT

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and combatants died during the summer war between Israel’s army and Hezbollah guerrillas, according to tallies by government agencies, humanitarian groups and The Associated Press.

Israeli authorities put the death toll for the Jewish state at 120 military combat deaths and 39 civilians killed by Hezbollah rockets fired into northern Israel during the July 12-Aug. 14 conflict.

Both sides have revised their figures of Lebanon’s war dead. The latest Lebanese and AP counts include 250 Hezbollah fighters that the group’s leaders now say died during Israel’s intense air, ground and sea bombardments in Lebanon _ more than triple the 70 they acknowledged during the war. Israel initially said 800 Hezbollah fighters died but later lowered that estimate to 600.

None of the counts of war dead include Lebanese killed since the fighting ended by exploding land mines or Israeli cluster bombs scattered around southern Lebanon. Such blasts have killed 27 people and wounded 167, according to the National Demining Office. No Israelis have been killed by war-related blasts since then.

The Lebanese and AP counts of Lebanon’s war dead range from 1,035 to 1,191.

Lebanon’s top police office, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, says 1,123 Lebanese died in the war _ 37 soldiers and police officers and 1,086 other people, including 894 named victims and 192 unidentified ones.

The report lists the 1,086 dead as ``martyrs.″ It does not differentiate between civilians and Hezbollah combatants, because the government considers them all Lebanese citizens. It also can be difficult to tell a Hezbollah fighter because many do not wear military uniforms.

A security official, who agreed to discuss the tally with AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the figure of 1,086 was based on reviews of hospitals, death certificates, village officials, families of the deceased and eyewitness accounts.

In a reflection of the confusion of wartime, the Higher Relief Council, an agency of the Lebanese prime minister’s office that deals with calamities, has a higher death toll _ 1,191 people, most of them civilians. The council says its number is based on figures from the health ministry, police and other state agencies.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, meanwhile, says 1,183 people died, mostly civilians and about a third of them children.

Human Rights Watch is still compiling a final list, said Nadim Houry, Lebanon researcher for the human rights group. So far, he said, the list has 1,119 names, based on the group’s own visits to villages, information from mayors and a check of tombstones as well as other lists made by local media and rescue services. The names include civilians, military personnel and guerrillas.

During the war, AP counted 855 killed, tallying only confirmed deaths reported by Lebanese police, security officials, civil defense and hospital authorities. That included 37 military personnel reported in official statements and 70 Hezbollah guerrillas reported killed either by the group or by police.

Adding the additional 180 deaths now conceded by Hezbollah raises the AP tally to 1,035.

The higher Hezbollah figure of 250 killed was disclosed in mid-December during an AP interview with Mahmoud Komati, deputy chief of the group’s ruling politburo.

Komati dismissed Israeli claims that 800 guerrillas were killed in the war. Asked about the Hezbollah disclosure, Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin revised that estimate, saying: ``We think that it’s closer to 600.″

Some of the discrepancies in numbers result from the fact that three separate agencies were involved in search and rescue efforts in southern Lebanon’s hilly and remote terrain: the Lebanese Red Cross, Islamic ambulance services and government civil defense teams.

The Lebanese security official who talked with AP said the lack of a central office to follow up accounts of dead and missing had made it hard to get precise numbers even months after the war’s end.

In addition, determining an exact figure has not been a priority during the political strife that has snarled the country since the war. Lebanon is enduring its worst crisis in over a decade, with the pro-Western government in a standoff with Hezbollah and its allies.

Hezbollah has come under fire from critics who blame it for the war, which the guerrillas set off by carrying out a brazen cross-border raid into Israel in which they killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others.

So the disclosure of a higher Hezbollah death toll could bolster the group’s standing during the political fight by showing it sacrificed in defending the country. During the war, a higher Hezbollah toll could have hurt morale.

The 192 unidentified victims included in the police count consist of body parts or remains of dismembered bodies, the Lebanese security official said.

The official said it was unclear why relatives had not claimed them, but it could be because some were from whole families that had been killed. The ``unidentified″ also could include remains of Hezbollah fighters, the official said.