A recent study on the mental condition of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation reveals a rapid increase in the number of those suffering from acute Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The study, conducted by the internationally respected Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) found that 54.6 per cent of Palestinian children living in the area that were bombarded or shelled started to developed acute cases of PTSD symptoms.

To commemorate International Mental Health Day: Save Childhood in Palestine, GCMHP's chairman, Dr Eyad El Sarraj, told Gulf News that Palestinian children are enduring unprecedented suffering.

He said: "Between September 2000 and August 2002, brutal Israeli violence and occupation have led to the deaths of approximately 322 children and the injuring of more than 7,000."

Daily violence, bombardment, home demolitions and death "are some of the traumatic events which constantly affect all aspects of children's lives, including their mental well-being," Dr El Sarraj said.

Additionally, the GCMHP study found that 13.3 per cent of children are suffering from other mental and behavioural problems such as sleeping disorders, hyperactivity, speech disorders, lack of concentration and aggressive behaviour.

"Furthermore, 36 per cent of the children living in areas of clashes and bombardment suffer from bedwetting," the survey discovered.

"Alongside the psychological suffering, the two-year closure on the Palestinian areas has affected children's physical well-being, as about 45 per cent of these children are suffering from acute malnutrition."

Commenting on its findings, the survey said the continuation of "the current Israeli occupation and its brutal nature of humiliation and destruction throughout Gaza and the West Bank, is the root of the evil."

It warned that children "who were traumatised during the first Intifada (1987-1993) by the Israeli military are today's suicide bombers, killing themselves and Israeli civilians, including children: thus completing the cycle of violence."

Dr El Sarraj, known for his integrity and independent thinking, said that since "peace in the Middle East is one of the cornerstones of world peace, instability in the region will spread to the rest of the world. The current situation breeds hatred, vengeance and violence."

On International Mental Health Day, GCMHP called on professionals, institutions and governments worldwide, to work towards building a brighter tomorrow for the children and respect their rights and protect them from violence and its effects.