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UN Agency to Open Summer Camps for Palestinian Children - 2002-07-19

The United Nations Children's Fund has said it is opening summer camps for Palestinian children in the West Bank cities of Jenin, Jericho and Salfeet on Monday. UNICEF has already set up similar camps in the Gaza Strip.

UNICEF said it plans to open a total of 180 summer camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The children's agency said, when all the camps are set up, they will be able to serve more than 30,000 children between the ages of six and 18.

UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte said the children will be able to draw, make music and even perform in plays. Perhaps most important she said they will have a safe place to spend their days.

"It really gives them a break. It really gives them a chance to actually just have some fun. That sounds basic, but for a Palestinian child having fun is not necessarily the case every day. And the other important thing the summer camps provide Palestinian children is a chance to speak freely and openly with other children their own age," Ms. Belmonte said.

Ms. Belmonte said almost all the children have witnessed violent acts against their families and neighbors and need help learning how to deal with the effects of seeing so much violence. For this reason, she said UNICEF has trained more than 100 young people, also in their teens, to work as counselors at the camps.

"The 120 trainers are teenagers, obviously Palestinian teenagers. We have found it effective here and elsewhere when young people talk to other young people about what is going on around them. Adults can certainly be in the area, but there is nothing like a program of young people to young people. They speak the same language, they talk about the same fears, the same concerns," Ms. Belmonte said.

She said the curfews Israel has imposed in the territories in response to the violence have caused problems, but she said UNICEF has learned how to work around them. She is confident the young people will be able to get to the camps.