Geneva: The Gaza Strip is the “most dangerous place in the world to be a child,” the head of the United Nations children’s agency Unicef has said.
Unicef Executive Director Catherine Russell told the UN Security Council that more than 5,300 Palestinian children had reportedly been killed since October 7 — when Palestinian militants of Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking hostages, most of them civilians.
Israel has focused its retaliation against Hamas in Gaza, a territory of 2.3 million people.
“The true cost of this latest war in Palestine and Israel will be measured in children’s lives those lost to the violence and those forever changed by it. Without an end to the fighting and full humanitarian access, the cost will continue to grow exponentially,” Russell, who last week visited Gaza, said at a council briefing on women and children there.
Israel has bombarded Gaza from the air, imposed a siege and invaded with soldiers and tanks.
“The Gaza Strip is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child,” Russell said. “In Gaza, the effects of the violence perpetrated on children have been catastrophic, indiscriminate and disproportionate.” Israel agreed on Wednesday to a ceasefire with Hamas for four days to let in humanitarian aid and free at least 50 hostages held by militants in exchange for at least 150 Palestinians jailed in Israel.
“Women in Gaza have told us that they pray for peace, but that if peace does not come, they pray for a quick death, in their sleep, with their children in their arms. It should shame us all that any mother, anywhere, has such a prayer,” UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous told the 15-member council.
ISRAEL ACCUSES HAMAS OF EXPLOITING CHILDREN
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan accused Hamas of exploiting children in Gaza for years and repeated long-held criticisms that the United Nations is biased against Israel.
“Make no mistake as soon as the pause ends, we will continue striving towards our goals with full force,” he said. “We will not stop until we eliminate all of Hamas’ terror capabilities and ensure that they can no longer rule Gaza and threaten both Israeli civilians and the women and children of Gaza.” Hamas denies operating from places such as hospitals in Gaza and denies using civilians as human shields.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the ceasefire agreement as “an important step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to end the suffering.” There are 5,500 pregnant women expected to give birth in Gaza in the coming month, the head of the U.N Population Fund (UNFPA), the world body’s sexual and reproductive health agency, told the Security Council.
“Every day approximately 180 women deliver under appalling conditions, the future for their newborns uncertain,” said Executive-Director Natalia Kanem, adding that UNFPA was also worried about some 7,000 women who gave birth over the past 47 days and lack access to care, water, sanitation and nutrition.