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Victorian Islamic leader criticised over comments casting doubt on death toll from 7 October attack

<span>Islamic Council of Victoria president Adel Salman says he is ‘contesting the full explanation of actually what happened on October 7’, when Hamas attacked Israel.</span><span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Islamic Council of Victoria president Adel Salman says he is ‘contesting the full explanation of actually what happened on October 7’, when Hamas attacked Israel.Photograph: James Ross/AAP

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has criticised a senior Victorian Islamic leader over comments made on radio in which he appeared to cast doubt on the official death toll from Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel and defended what he called a “legitimate act of resistance” by Palestinians to “this status, this occupation”.

The Islamic Council of Victoria’s president, Adel Salman, has since told Guardian Australia that it was not his intention to dispute how many died, but he contested the “full explanation of actually what happened” during the attack.

During a discussion about the ICV’s decision not to attend the premier’s annual Iftar dinner, he told ABC Radio National on Wednesday that it was “legitimate” for Palestinians to “resist” on 7 October.

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“We denounce any violence and killing of civilians. What we don’t denounce, very clearly, is [a] legitimate act of resistance and for the Palestinians to rise up on October 7, and say ‘we’re no longer going to tolerate this status, occupation’. That’s legitimate,” Salman said.

Under questioning from host Patricia Karvelas, Salman said he did not think “anyone would have an issue” with the 7 October attack if civilians were not killed.

Karvelas responded: “The issue is 1,200 people were slaughtered.” She said the death toll was not contested.

Salman replied: “We’ll probably leave that because I think there are some people actually contesting exactly how many were killed, how they were killed. But in any case, clearly civilians were killed.

“People have committed those actions should be held to account. But you can’t condemn the Palestinians for actually legitimately resisting their occupation. I think that’s a very fair position.”

Salman later told Guardian Australia he did not intend to contest the death toll provided by Israeli officials.

“I’m not contesting the death toll,” he said.

“What I’m contesting is the full explanation of actually what happened on October 7. I’m not alone in saying that, even the Israeli media like the Haaretz have been writing about that how there are different understandings of actually what happened.

“I’m not disputing that people were killed, innocent civilians … but what I’m saying is that there are different versions and explanations of what took place on October 7, and I think it’s important that there’s a proper investigation.”

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He said the killing of Israeli civilians “cannot be condoned under any circumstances”.

“Likewise, the killing of thousands and thousands of Palestinian civilians cannot be condoned,” Salman said.

Alex Ryvchin, the co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, described Salman’s comments on ABC as “sick and depraved”.

“The events of October 7 served no military or political purpose beyond violating large numbers of people in the most brutal ways imaginable,” Ryvchin said. “It has also directly resulted in a war that has caused great suffering on the Palestinian side.”

The five-month war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas’s attack on Israel in which, according to Israeli figures, about 1,200 people were killed and another 250 were abducted.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed almost 30,000 people, displaced more than 85% of the 2.3 million population from their homes and left more than half of the strip’s infrastructure in ruins, according to data from Gaza’s health ministry and the UN.