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UN Concerned About Children in Israel-Hamas Conflict

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 file photo, mourners gather around the graves of members of the Najam family, killed overnight in an Israeli strike in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip.

FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 file photo, mourners gather around the graves of members of the Najam family, killed overnight in an Israeli strike in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says that children in Gaza are traumatized as a result of the hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. Nearly 400,000 need immediate psychosocial support to help them deal with their distress.

Half of Gaza's 1.8 million people are children under the age of 18. UNICEF says the month-long war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is having a catastrophic effect on them and their families.

According to UNICEF, more than 400 Palestinian children have been killed - nearly one-third of the civilian casualties. In addition, more than 2,700 children reportedly have been wounded.

Pernille Ironside, who runs the organization's field office in Gaza says children over the age of seven already have lived through two wars-in 2008 and 2012.

In a telephone briefing from Gaza, Ironside said the toll in lives and physical infrastructure in this conflict is far greater than in the two previous wars combined.

"There is not a single family in Gaza Strip who has not been touched through direct loss of a loved one, injury, having their homes demolished or now being amongst the quarter of a million people out of the 1.8 million people who are displaced," Ironside said.

Palestinian Salwa Shabat, right, accompanied by some of her children, from left to right, Amira, Huda, top, Ahmed and Anas, weep as they inspect the damage upon returning to the family house, destroyed by Israeli strikes in the town of Beit Hanoun.

Palestinian Salwa Shabat, right, accompanied by some of her children, from left to right, Amira, Huda, top, Ahmed and Anas, weep as they inspect the damage upon returning to the family house, destroyed by Israeli strikes in the town of Beit Hanoun.

Ironside said the children of Gaza show symptoms of increased distress, including bed wetting, clinging to parents and nightmares. She said they cannot count on their parents giving them that help when, they, themselves are barely able to function.

Although Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, is critical of Israel's military actions in Gaza, she also finds fault with Hamas. Pillay said she understands Israel's concerns and its need to protect its people.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

She condemns Hamas' rocket attacks against Israel because they are indiscriminate and traumatize the civilian population. Pillay said she is particularly concerned by the effect they have on children, adding that Israeli children have as much right to life as do Gaza children.

Ironside said Israel's bombing of Gaza's power plant has knocked out the territory's electricity and ability to pump clean water - meaning there is little water for sanitation. Children living in shelters are now suffering from skin conditions, scabies, lice and other communicable diseases, Ironside told reporters.

She said the situation is even worse for people outside the shelters.

"They are in a terrible state in terms of being able to access any kind of clean drinking water that is not contaminated by sewage," she said. "And, this is an urgent concern that could lead potentially to diarrhea and the further death of children, particularly those who are under the age of five."

Ironside noted that Israeli airstrikes have taken a very heavy toll on schools in Gaza - where at least 142 schools, including 89 U.N. schools, have been damaged. However she agreed that Hamas must share the blame because it stored rockets in three U.N. schools, which is forbidden.

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