Gaza crisis must not be forgotten, UNICEF says

A Palestinian relative of 14-year-old Aref Abu Gaydah, killed by Israeli fire, mourns during his funeral in the northern Gaza Strip, 1 August 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

The humanitarian crisis engulfing Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip is on the verge of being forgotten because of the fighting taking place in Lebanon and northern Israel, and children are suffering more than most, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today.

Gaza’s children - estimated at more than 830,000 - “are living in an environment of extraordinary violence, fear and anxiety,” UNICEF Special Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, Dan Rohrmann, said today in a statement released in Jerusalem after he visited Gaza.

UNICEF announced it is stepping up its assistance in health, education, water and sanitation programmes, as well as counselling and activities for adolescents and younger children, across the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Rohrmann said 35 Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza over the past month, with almost a quarter of them under 10 years of age. He added that since the second intifada began in September 2000, some 912 children have been killed, including 119 Israeli children.

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reported today that 38 Palestinians have been killed, including 7 children, and more than 130 others injured, by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) strikes since last Wednesday.

Fierce fighting has continued on both sides over the past week: the IDF has fired more than 1,050 artillery shots into Gaza and Palestinian militants have launched about 70 home-made rockets into Israel.

Gaza’s border crossings are partially or entirely closed, while the electricity supply to the region remains erratic since the IDF destroyed a power station on 28 June.

UNSCO added that its compound in Gaza was substantially damaged on Sunday night during a demonstration by an estimated 5,000 people following the IDF’s shelling at the weekend of a residential building in Qana, southern Lebanon, in which more than 50 civilians were killed.

Numerous UN officials, led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, condemned that attack, which the Security Council also deplored. Most recently, today, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, issued a statement expressing “profound shock and sadness” at the Qana attack, strongly condemning the “callous disregard for children.”

Ms. Coomaraswamy’s office, along with UNICEF and other UN partners, has monitors on the ground in Lebanon and Israel to report on possible breaches of international obligations - including killing, maiming, denial of humanitarian access and attacks on schools and hospitals - and plans to report to the Council’s Working Group on children and armed conflict at the earliest opportunity, the statement said.

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