By Maryam Qarehgozlou
In a sleepy and somber neighborhood in southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis, leveled in the Israeli regime’s indiscriminate bombings in the past three weeks, a group of men are seen walking down a desolate street cradling bodies of three children wrapped in blood-stained shrouds.
The visibly inconsolable and gutted men, relatives of the slain children, are filmed while carrying the lifeless tiny bodies to a local cemetery for customary rites and burial.
These children were killed in overnight airstrikes carried out last week by Israeli warplanes in Khan Yunis, where Palestinian civilians had been asked to take refuge and assured security.
When a bombing destroyed 15 houses in this area south of Gaza, 11-year-old Sila Hamdan and her 9-year-old sister Tila were playing in their courtyard, unmindful of what lay ahead.
Both of them were killed and their bodies were found hours later by rescue workers while digging through the rubble of buildings. Their bodies were too small to be identified easily.
On October 19, twelve people, including seven children were killed when the house of the Al-Bakri family was hit in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis.
The staggering number of child casualties points to the heavy toll this devastating war has taken on the young population of the territory since October 7 when Israel began its indiscriminate aerial blitz.
It came after the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Strom in response to relentless violence against Palestinians and the repeated desecration of the holy al-Aqsa Mosque.
Death toll of kids mounting
Israel’s unrelenting bombardment combined with the crippling siege of the strip has plunged the densely populated area into a humanitarian crisis, with the death toll passing 8,500 - mostly children.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, between October 7 and 24, more than 2,900 children were killed in Gaza, which accounted for 40 percent of the total death toll of 7,000 at the time.
In the last week, more children have been killed. Save the Children International, in a report on Sunday, said around 3,200 children have been killed in the besieged Strip by the Israeli regime, surpassing the number of children killed across the world's conflict zones since 2019.
According to multiple reports, including the Palestinian health ministry and the Defense for Children International (DCI), one child is being killed in Gaza every 10 minutes.
At the time of filing this story, the number of children killed in Gaza in the past three weeks surpassed 3,500 and the number is growing every hour. More than 6,300 children have also been injured.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a press release on October 18 that since the launch of the indiscriminate bombing crusade against Gaza, an average of 100 children have been killed daily.
Case of missing children
Hundreds of children are still trapped under the rubble of residential buildings targeted during Israel’s strikes on Gaza, and they have not been rescued yet, which implies the actual death toll could be higher.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement on Sunday that at least 1000 children are missing under the rubble in Gaza.
The ongoing siege and the relentless bombardment are impeding search and rescue operations.
Save the Children in a statement said children who are still alive but trapped under the rubble are likely to be suffering from severe physical trauma including complex crush injuries, dehydration, and extreme mental distress.
“It is unconscionable that there are hundreds of children trapped under the rubble, with rescue teams struggling to reach them. They will undoubtedly be in extreme pain, terrified, alone, and waiting for help,” Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director for the occupied Palestinian territory, said.
If there is not a ceasefire, if the siege is not lifted, this help will simply not come for many, Lee added.
“Children in Gaza have been through unimaginable horror. They’ve lost their homes, their loved ones, and their safety. We must make every effort to ensure that thousands more don’t lose their lives,” he was quoted as saying.
“All parties must agree to an immediate ceasefire. With every hour that passes, more children’s lives will be the cost.”
Writing names of children
Save the Children also reported that medical workers are voicing concerns over the increasing number of missing and separated children.
“Cases of separated children admitted in the hospitals and several other cases of deceased children whose bodies hadn’t been identified or claimed by any relatives are growing,” the children’s body said.
In a desperate move, Palestinian children and their parents have started writing their names on their bodies in black ink so that they can be identified in hospitals if they are killed or injured in Israeli strikes.
Children pulled from the wreckage of buildings are sometimes unrecognizable due to grave injuries.
Heartbreaking photos of children lying on steel trays inside Gaza hospital morgues with their sleeves or legs of trousers pushed up to reveal their names have been going viral on social media.
“What we noticed today is that many parents write the names of their children on their legs so they can get identified after airstrikes and if they get lost. This is a new phenomenon that just started in Gaza,” a supervisor at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital was quoted as saying in the media last week.
“Many of the children are missing, many get here with their skulls broken … and it’s impossible to identify them, only though that writing they do get identified,” he said.
Mohammed Abusalim, a resident in southern Gaza, told the Press TV website that he also wrote the names of his adolescent children on their arms.
“My children are clueless about what it means to write names on their arms and legs,” he said. “These are the measures we have to take to ensure our children remain alive or we get news of their death.”
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a report last Tuesday that almost every child in Gaza has been exposed to “deeply distressing events and trauma.”
The report highlighted that children are experiencing widespread destruction, relentless attacks, displacement, and severe shortages of essential necessities such as food, water, and medicine.
Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, described the rate of death and injuries of children as “staggering,” saying the situation in the Gaza Strip “is a growing stain on our collective conscience.”
“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,” Khodr said about Gazans who required humanitarian aid to survive even before the recent offensive.
The report added that without stable electricity and fuel supplies, essential facilities such as hospitals, desalination plants, and water pumping stations cannot work properly.
“Neonatal intensive care units house over 100 newborns, some of whom are in incubators and rely on mechanical ventilation, making an uninterrupted power supply a matter of life and death,” he noted.
Children, roughly making up 50 percent of the population in the besieged Gaza Strip, are also facing a dire and pressing lack of water, the report added.
According to the report, some Gazans are resorting to non-potable water sources, including high-salinity and brackish-quality water from agricultural wells.
“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.”
A living nightmare
The massacre of children in Gaza did not begin on October 7. The Israeli regime’s periodic bombings and crippling siege of the blockaded territory have killed thousands of children over the years.
According to the human rights group B’Tselem, which keeps track of casualties from Israeli violence against Palestinians, in Gaza alone, at least 1,741 children were killed before the recent aggression.
Palestinian children cannot escape the living nightmare as the killing spree continues.
The teenage children in Gaza have survived five wars: the 2008-2009 war that lasted 23 days; the 2012 war that lasted eight days; the 2014 war that lasted 50 days and the 2021 war that lasted 11 days.
The latest war on the besieged strip is by far the deadliest in terms of the casualties of children.
The war also has had a mental impact on Gazan children. In 2022, Save the Children published a report on the impact of 15 years of blockade on the mental health of children in the territory.
The study indicated that the psychosocial well-being of children, young people and their caregivers has declined dramatically to “alarming levels” since 2018.
“When we asked children and young people in 2022 what their daily lives in Gaza are like they spoke of living in a perpetual state of fear, worry, sadness and grief, waiting for the next round of violence to erupt, and feeling unable to sleep or concentrate,” the study said.
It added that many children shared vivid memories of the bombings they had experienced, recalling how their homes and schools were destroyed, and their loved ones killed.
“Most of all, they wanted to enjoy their lives and to have the freedom to pursue their dreams like many other children around the world,” the report stated.