Gaza’s children - some 56 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million people - are struggling to survive the Israeli offensive which began on 27 December.
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 660 Palestinians have been killed since 27 December, including 176 children and 86 women; 2,950 have been injured, of whom 40 percent are children and 18 percent women.
When asked about the high number of child fatalities, Israeli Defence Ministry spokesman Maj Peter Lerner told IRIN: “Hamas is taking advantage of the civilian population, using them as shields.”
A statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on 6 January said: “Israel is doing all it can to avoid harming non-combatants; any collateral injury to them is the responsibility of Hamas.”
Children are vulnerable for other reasons: 50,000 of them were malnourished in Gaza before the offensive, and half of those under two had anaemia, according to Save the Children.
Furthermore, all primary healthcare services for the population, including vaccination services, have stopped, according to the WHO, placing children at risk of diseases such as hepatitis and measles.
An estimated one million people, including 560,000 children, are living without water or electricity, said Save the Children. Lack of electricity for heating at night presents a hypothermia risk for children, particularly babies and newborns, it added.
|According to the WHO, on 8 January 176 children had been killed by the Israeli army and 1,180 injured|
“Children have become traumatised and very anxious, constantly on alert due to the continuous bombing,” said psychiatrist Eyad al-Sarraj, head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, which operates nine mental health clinics in Gaza. “Children are restless, sleepless, aggressive, and bedwetting is common.”
“I can hear the bombing from inside my house. Every window in our home has been shattered,” said a 13-year-old girl from Gaza City. She has been trapped at home with her mother and two brothers without electricity for nine days. “I am terrified, I can’t eat, sleep, or drink.” Her family only has one day’s supply of drinking water at home.
Lana Shaheen, 36, a mother of two from a different family also in Gaza City, said: “The fear is overwhelming; my children cry uncontrollably due to the air strikes and the noise of the shelling.”
Children are at risk of long-term psychological damage, according to al-Sarraj: “Children have lost the father figure as protector and they will seek militant groups to join to replace him.”