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UNICEF: Thousands Of Lebanese, Palestinian Children Missing School


UNICEF says it is working with the Education Ministry in Lebanon to have 350,000 Lebanese children in school by mid-October.

But, UNICEF Spokesman Michael Bociurkiw says there are enormous challenges to getting damaged school buildings ready to receive students. He describes the condition of one high school.

"We found that the school is totally unusable. Panes of glass are shattered, classrooms are full of debris, and essential equipment like, you know, science labs are beyond repair," he noted.

Latest estimates find up to 50 schools were destroyed and as many as 300 damaged during the war between Israel and Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. UNICEF says workers are rushing to clear up the damaged buildings and clean up schools that were used as temporary shelters for people who fled their homes during the fighting. He says UNICEF is sending essential supplies to all of Lebanon's 1,400 public schools.

In Gaza and the West Bank, UNICEF says 750,000 children are not in school, because teachers have joined a strike by government workers, who have not been paid in months.

The strike is aimed at the Hamas-led Palestinian government. It has not been able to pay most salaries since it took power five months ago because of international sanctions, imposed for its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

UNICEF's Bociurkiw says the majority of the more than 1,700 schools in Gaza and the West Bank are either partially or completely closed.

"The teachers, it is good to point out, I think - some of them have not been paid for up to six months," he added. "And as you can appreciate, this is on top of the day-to-day distress they go through, going to and from school because of checkpoints or curfews, and the frustration over not being able to have a full school day in many instances with their students."

Bociurkiw says UNICEF is distributing $4 million worth of supplies, as part of its back to school program.

He says children in the West Bank and Gaza have lived through their most dangerous summer since the increase in violence began. In July alone, 36 children were killed. Bociurkiw says UNICEF had hoped the new school year would bring a return to normality for these youngsters.

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