Annan strongly condemns killing of Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza

US President George W. Bush and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan walk with Secretary of State Colin Powell along the colonnade in the Rose Garden at the White House Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2004. (White House/Paul Mors)

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today strongly condemned the killing and injury of Palestinian demonstrators in southern Gaza, and called on Israel to immediately end its military operations there.

“The killing of peaceful demonstrators, many of them women and children, has distressed the Secretary-General, who sends his deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims,” his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said in a statement.

Mr. Eckhard noted that the Secretary-General has repeatedly warned Israel, including yesterday via his Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, “that it must abide by its obligations as an occupying power, which include protecting the civilian population and eschewing the disproportionate or indiscriminate use of force.”

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said it was deeply concerned about the effect of the ongoing military operation in the Gaza Strip on children, particularly a missile strike Wednesday that claimed the lives of at least 10 Palestinians, many of them youngsters.

“Palestinian children have a right to be protected against all acts of violence in the midst of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said David S. Bassiouni, UNICEF Special Representative in Jerusalem. “They have a right to a safe shelter, safe access to their schools and to health services.”

With the recent military actions in Rafah - and today’s missile strike - at least 10 children have already lost their lives, including a 16-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy shot in their home Tuesday morning. Many additional children have been injured and all are facing psychosocial distress, UNICEF said.

Since the start of the conflict, Israeli and Palestinian children have paid a very heavy price, UNICEF said. Over 660 children under 18 have been killed, of which 560 were Palestinian and 104 were Israeli - including four Israeli sisters killed by militants in an attack in the Gaza Strip on 2 May.

UNICEF calls on the State of Israel to abide by its obligations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child by protecting children from direct exposure to violence, and providing those who have lost their homes with alternative housing,” Mr. Bassiouni said. “The injudicious use of force where children are present can only bring about the deaths of innocent youngsters. We urge the Israeli authorities to reconsider the impact these incursions are having on Palestinian children.”

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