UN warns against children taking part in demonstrations

More than 40 children killed and thousands injured at border protests

A Palestinian girl cleans the face of her brother outside their destroyed house after an Israeli missile targeted a nearby Hamas site, in Gaza City March 26, 2019. Reuters 
A Palestinian girl cleans the face of her brother outside their destroyed house after an Israeli missile targeted a nearby Hamas site, in Gaza City March 26, 2019. Reuters 

Children in Gaza should not be allowed to take part in violent demonstrations, the UN warned, as Palestinians prepare to mark the first anniversary of deadly protests along the border with Israel.

The United Nations children agency (Unicef) said on Thursday that 40 children have been killed and nearly 3,000 have been hospitalised in the last year in Gaza.

"Any attempt to use children in protests and demonstrations that could turn violent is unacceptable,” Geert Cappelaere, Unicef Regional Director in the Middle East and North Africa.

Exploiting children’s “lack of sense of purpose and vulnerabilities” or enlisting them into violence is a violation of children’s rights, he said.

Thousands of Palestinians have gathered on a weekly basis along the Gaza-Israel border in protests known as the Great March of Return. Demonstrators have been calling on Israel to lift a crippling decade-long blockade on Gaza and allow refugees to return to the ancestral homes they were forced to flee after the founding of Israel in 1948.

"As calls are being made for more demonstrations in the days to come, we remind all parties of their responsibility to always prioritise the protection of children’s lives, health and well-being. This is an imperative,” said Mr Cappelaere.

Unicef said it was outraged "at the very high numbers of children who have been killed and injured” as a result of armed conflict in 2018.

The anniversary of the protests falls just days after another severe flare-up between Hamas and Israel, with a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip that sparked retaliatory air strikes.

The trade of fire came just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that he was ready to direct further military action in Gaza, just two weeks ahead of Israel’s April 9 elections.

A study published on Monday by the the aid agency Norwegian Refugee Council said that 68 per cent of schoolchildren they surveyed in areas close to the Israeli border fence were experiencing “unusually high rates” of distress.

“Over the past few days — once again — children in the state of Palestine and Israel have experienced unjustifiable stress and been exposed to violence as a result of an escalation in the conflict,” the UN's Mr Cappelaere said. "All necessary measures need to be taken to ensure children are not targeted. A child is a child. The protection of children must be prioritised at all times.”

Last month, UN investigators accused Israeli soldiers of intentionally firing on civilians and said they may have committed war crimes in their response to demonstrations.

The independent inquiry, set up last year by the UN’s human rights council, said Israeli forces killed 189 people and shot more than 6,000 others with live ammunition near the border that divides the two territories.

Over the last 12 months, some 40 children have been killed in these demonstrations. According to authorities, nearly 3,000 others have been hospitalised with injuries, many leading to life-long disabilities.

“Reasonable grounds were found to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognisable as such," the panel said in a statement.

Israel dismissed the report calling it "slanted and hostile."

Published: March 28, 2019 05:33 PM


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