One child killed is too many, says Unicef as more than 4,000 die in Gaza

Children will need psychiatric support to cope with trauma of war, the agency's regional director says

An injured child at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli air strikes. A child is killed every 15 minutes in Gaza, Unicef's Middle East chief has said. Reuters
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One child killed is too many, Unicef's Middle East chief has told The National after more than 4,000 Palestinian children died in Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip.

On average, a child is killed in the besieged enclave every 15 minutes, Adele Khodr, the UN children's agency's regional director for Middle East and North Africa, said in an interview.

Almost every 15 minutes there is one child that is being killed
Adele Khodr , Unicef regional director for Middle East and North Africa

“The latest figures reported from the Ministry of Health in Palestine indicate that 4,142 children have been killed and around 8,000 injured within a span of one month. This means almost every 15 minutes there is one child that is being killed,” she said.

She joined other UN officials in calling for an immediate ceasefire, which Israel has repeatedly rejected despite the horrific death toll.

Ms Khodr warned that many children in the besieged enclave who survive will need psychiatric support to carry on with their lives after the war ends.

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 4,100 children, according its ministry of health, since Israel began air strikes on the enclave following the unprecedented October 7 attacks by Hamas.

“One child is too many,” Ms Khodr said. “Even if it is affecting one child, we consider it as too many children.”

Graveyard for children

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres demanded a humanitarian ceasefire on Monday, as the war entered its second month, warning that Gaza is becoming a “graveyard for children”.

Palestinian children, including newborns and babies, have been hit by air strikes and rockets, burnt by blasts and crushed by collapsing buildings.

They are seeing things a child shouldn't see
Adele Khodr, Unicef regional director for Middle East and North Africa

Images of shell shocked children being pulled from under the rubble have been circulating on social media. Videos of young boys and girls covered in blood and dust after they lost their entire families have triggered international condemnation and widespread protests calling for the end of the war on Gaza and the protection of the most vulnerable.

“If you look at footage you will find that some children are trembling and they cannot hold their legs straight. They are seeing things a child shouldn't see,” Mrs Khodr explained.

In a video seen by millions online, a young girl is seen screaming: “I recognised my mother from her hair, she is gone. My mother is dead.”

On Tuesday, eight-year-old Hamza Talib was walking with his father to a supermarket to get food when an Israeli air strike targeted the area.

“I watched my father die in front of me,” Hamza told The National.

“No one knows where I am, I need to tell my mother that I am alive,” he said, as he sobbed and shook in the aftermath of the attack.

The senior UN official said: “We are concerned about the children’s mental health and we are concerned about their psychosocial well-being because the scenes that they are seeing in front of them are really horrific scenes.

“Sometimes one of their parents or their siblings or their neighbours or their friends are being killed in front of them,” Ms Khodr said.

Gaza's children share their stories and dreams

Gaza's children share their stories and dreams

The agency has been advocating for injured children to be transported to Egypt for medical treatment because Gaza's hospitals are overwhelmed and running out of medical supplies.

“We advocated very strongly that the family of the child at least the mother or the father goes with them,” she said.

Israel has been accused of dropping chemicals on the Strip, which are likely to cause lifelong diseases.

“[Children] have acute respiratory infections, it will develop into skin diseases, and some of them might be curable and others might be there for life,” Ms Khodr said.

To secure a better future, children in Gaza will need to “feel that there is somewhere where they can go and sleep peacefully. It's as simple as that,” she added.

The relentless Israeli bombing has put education on hold once again, as schools turn into makeshift shelters and families struggle to survive.

More than a dozen of Unicef's staff in the Gaza Strip are sheltering inside schools like the rest of the Gazan population.

There is no safe place in strip for the whole population and especially for children, the agency has repeatedly said since early October.

“It's one of the most densely populated regions in the world and this is why we are really concerned about the impact of the war on children,” Ms Khodr said.

Updated: November 08, 2023, 6:37 AM