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Child casualties by Israeli war on Gaza a ‘stain on our conscience’: UNICEF

Palestinian children injured in Israeli air raids are being treated at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, October 24, 2023. (Photo by Getty Images)

The United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) has decried the “staggering” number of children casualties in the Gaza Strip due to incessant Israeli bombardment of the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Adele Khodr, the UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa that the killing and maiming of children, attacks on hospitals and schools, and the denial of humanitarian access "constitute grave violations of children’s rights.”

“The situation in the Gaza Strip is a growing stain on our collective conscience. The rate of death and injuries of children is simply staggering,” Khodr said. 

“Even more frightening is the fact that unless tensions are eased, and unless humanitarian aid is allowed, including food, water, medical supplies and fuel, the daily death toll will continue to rise.”

Reporting that 2,360 children had been killed in less than three weeks, UNICEF on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire and unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance.

A further 5,364 children in Gaza have been injured in the “unrelenting attacks” by Israel, UNICEF added. More than 400 children are reportedly either killed or injured daily in the blockaded region, it said.

The occupied West Bank has also seen an “alarming surge in casualties”, the agency said. Twenty-eight children have been killed and at least 160 have reportedly sustained injuries.

Almost every child in the Gaza Strip has been exposed to deeply distressing events and trauma, marked by widespread destruction, relentless attacks, displacement, and severe shortages of daily necessities such as food, water, and medicine, UNICEF said.

The dire and pressing lack of water also poses grave consequences for children, UNICEF said, noting that most water systems have been severely affected or are nonoperational due to fuel shortages and damage to vital infrastructure.

UNICEF said fuel, which Israel has not allowed into Gaza, is of paramount importance for the operation of essential facilities such as hospitals, desalination plants, and water pumping stations.

It also said neonatal intensive care units, some housing newborns in incubators, rely on mechanical ventilation, making an uninterrupted power supply a matter of life and death.

“Without humanitarian access, the deaths from attacks could be the tip of the iceberg,” said Khodr. “The death toll will increase exponentially if incubators start to fail, if hospitals go dark, if children continue to drink unsafe water and have no access to medicine when they get sick.”

According to a 2022 report by Save the Children, with the constant trauma of war and occupation, four out of five children in Gaza live with depression, grief and fear.  More than half of them struggle with suicidal thoughts and the trauma of witnessing the deaths of other children.

Last week, a Palestinian NGO said one child in Gaza is killed every 15 minutes in Israel’s ongoing bombardment. “We are witnessing a genocide in real time,” a spokesperson for the Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) said.

Amid the war, education has been put on hold and schools are being used to shelter displaced people. Schools, like hospitals, have also suffered damage from the ongoing aerial attacks.

UN chief Antonio Guterres also renewed calls for a ceasefire on Tuesday and said international law was being violated in the ongoing Israeli war on the besieged strip. He said Palestinians “have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”

The Israeli blockade of Gaza is preventing food, fuel and regular aid from getting through. In the last week, a few dozen trucks carrying aid have been allowed in through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, but NGOs say the supplies are not near enough.

Israel waged war on Gaza on October 7 after Palestinian resistance groups launched Operation Al-Aqsa Storm, a surprise attack into the occupied territories in response to the occupying regime’s intensified crimes against the Palestinian people.

The Israeli attacks on Gaza have targeted places of gathering, including hospitals, schools, mosques and churches, displacing more than one million in the densely-populated region, which is home to more than 2 million people.

According to the Palestinian health ministry, the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip has so far killed at least 6,546, people and left over 18,000 others wounded.

Israel has also blocked water, food and electricity to Gaza, plunging the coastal sliver into a humanitarian crisis.

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