Children make up third of Gaza dead

Agence France Presse
The Age January 8, 2009

Almost a third of the 689 Palestinians killed in Israel's Gaza offensive are children, with most killed since the start of a ground offensive after a week of aerial bombardment, medics say.

The proportion of civilians killed has risen dramatically since Saturday when ground troops joined the assault on the Hamas rulers of Gaza after a week of aerial and naval bombardment.

A total of 220 children have been killed since Operation Cast Lead was unleashed on December 27, according to Gaza emergency services chief Moawiya Hassanein.

Humanitarian agencies fear more children and other civilians will die as the battle moves into the most densely populated areas of Gaza, one of the world's most densely-populated places.

"Of particular concern are the growing numbers of children killed and injured," said Maxwell Gaylard, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories.

"Every other person in Gaza is a child (56 per cent of the population), and they remain dangerously exposed to the fighting around them," he said.

"There is no safe space in the Gaza Strip - no safe haven, no bomb shelters, and the borders are closed, making this one of the rare conflicts where civilians have no place to flee," he said in a statement.

On Tuesday, at least 43 people sheltering at a school in northern Gaza were killed, according to emergency services.

The Israeli army said troops had apparently responded to mortar fire from within the school compound, but the UN Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees which runs the school said it was "99.9 per cent sure" there were no militants there.

Palestinians "are becoming more and more desperate as each day of attacks goes by," said Martha Myers, CARE director for the Palestinian territories, after one of the agency's food distribution workers was killed in an air strike on Tuesday night.

"This is further evidence that any attack, even a targeted one, will result in civilian casualties," she said.

Israel says Hamas is to blame for all civilian deaths, for firing rockets at Israel and attacking troops from densely populated areas and storing weapons in the homes they share with women and children.

The United Nations has called Hamas attacks "indiscriminate" and the Israeli response "excessive," and urged both sides to end the violence.

The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, urged "all parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law so that children are protected and receive essential humanitarian supplies and support."

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