Vita Bekker
The Financial Times
January 6, 2009 - 1:00am

Medical officials in Gaza said on Tuesday that at least 115 children had died since the Israeli assault began 11 days ago, amid warnings that the bombardment and continuing blockade could spur a new generation to embrace violence.

Said Ghabayen, a doctor and father of six living north-east of Gaza City, said the din of nearby artillery fire and air strikes for almost four hours on Monday night was the worst his family had experienced in the 11-day assault.

“The kids were screaming, clinging to us, shutting their ears with their hands and all I could do was hug them,” he said.

Mahmud Abo Rahma, who works with the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, warned that Israeli action risked turning children to violence as their hopes for the future faded.

“As a child I grew up in the first intifada [uprising] and threw stones. The next generation of Palestinians produced suicide bombers. I can’t see a chance for the next generation to become more moderate,” he said.

Gaza’s children, who make up more than half of the 1.5m inhabitants in the impoverished territory, were shell-shocked, relief workers warned.

“They are terrified – the bombing is around the clock and there is no rest at all,” said Sajy Elmughanni, a co-ordinator for the United Nations Children’s Fund. “This could [have an] impact on the children for months or years afterwards.”

Most children now spend their time indoors at home, as schools have become makeshift shelters for Palestinians displaced by the assault.

Parents say children have lost their appetites, cling to them, wet beds and have recurring nightmares. They also suffer from the cold, especially at night, as most windows are kept open to avoid them shattering during bombardments.

With many of the territory’s power lines damaged, televisions in most homes are not functioning and there is little escape from the sounds of war. “The children sit with their parents and listen to the radio, mostly the Hamas-run station, which only broadcasts sounds of explosions and screams and news of those killed,” said Mr Elmughanni.

Even before the Israeli attacks began, some 50,000 children were suffering from malnutrition in Gaza, amid the crippling blockade of the territory. This number “could be increased by the thousands”, warned Osama Damo, who works in Gaza with the human rights group Save the Children. Many grocery stores have shut and fresh food such as milk, cheese and fruit is scarce.

Sanitary conditions are also worsening. Nappies are hard to come by, and aid workers say parents are forced to overuse the ones they have or resort to towels and other rudimentary replacements. Most of Gaza’s residents have no access to running water and many no longer shower.


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