JERUSALEM - The number of Palestinian children who have been killed so far this year in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip almost doubles the number killed for the whole of 2005, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Many of the children died after being shot by Israeli troops during military operations or were killed in Israeli air strikes on houses.
On Thursday, 13-year-old Suhaib Kadiah became the 92nd Palestinian child to be killed this year when she was shot dead by Israeli troops during an incursion into the Khan Younis area of Gaza.
The Israeli army said it was looking for tunnels and other infrastructure it said was being used by militants. Suhaib was among five members of the same family that were killed in a firefight.
In July alone, 36 children were killed in Gaza after Israel launched a military operation following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants.
A total of 52 Palestinian children were killed in 2005. Overall, 819 children have been killed since the beginning of the second intifada [Palestinian uprising against Israeli military occupation] in 2000, according to UNICEF statistics.
Youngsters are suffering increasing levels of stress from violence and fear in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, UNICEF said.
“They are confronted with regular military operations, shelling, house demolitions and checkpoints on their way to schools,” said Anne Grandjean, a UNICEF Child Protection Officer.
“As a result we find high prevalence of signs of stress such as anxiety, eating and sleeping disorders, and difficulties concentrating in school. All of these signs need to be tackled as soon as possible to avoid a long-lasting impact on the child’s development,” she added.
UNICEF and the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission are using teams of social workers and psychologists to respond to children’s needs.
Every month they reach 3,000 children and their families, offering support and counseling after violent incidents, UNICEF said.
The counseling sessions end every month with a festival and beach party where thousands of children are given the chance to play and interact with each other away from the conflict.
“These festivals are important because they are about protecting childhood,” said Dan Rohrmann, UNICEF Special Representative for Gaza and the West Bank.
“It’s an opportunity for children to be children, which is rare here in Gaza, because they live in an environment of extraordinary fear and violence and insecurity,” added Rohrmann.
Eissa Alyoub, from Beit Lahiya in Gaza, said his children were left petrified by Israeli air and artillery strikes.
“When they saw a neighbour’s house get hit by missiles, they urinated in their beds,” said Alyoub, 39. “Afterwards, they cry about it and come to sleep with me and their mother.
“They are so stressed out that their bodies are rigid with tension and stress. This behaviour started eight months ago when there was an Israeli incursion into our area, shooting outside in the street,” added Alyoub.
Tamar Samash, spokeswoman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Israel was coordinating closely with UNICEF and tries to avoid harming innocent civilians.
“Israel is cooperating with UNICEF representatives in Gaza and the West Bank and is doing its utmost under the difficult circumstances to avoid loss of innocent lives,” Samash said.
“Unfortunately, there are cases where children are hurt when Israel responds to malicious and murderous acts against its citizens, attacks which are launched from within civilian quarters,” she added.
The bloodiest year for Palestinian children since the beginning of the second intifada was 2002, when 192 children met a violent death.
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