Gaza children stressed, in danger

2011-04-20 11:09
A wounded Palestinian boy cries as he waits for treatment at a hospital in Gaza City following Israeli shelling. (Mohammed Abed, AFP)

A wounded Palestinian boy cries as he waits for treatment at a hospital in Gaza City following Israeli shelling. (Mohammed Abed, AFP)

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Paris - Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip has left the isolated Palestinian territory's children stressed, desperate and in poverty, forcing some to do dangerous and deadly work, Unicef said on Tuesday.

While there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Israel's blockade means there is extensive poverty, endemic unemployment and that 80% of Gazans are dependent on aid handouts, said Unicef spokesperson Catherine Weibel.

Children under 18-years-old, around half the estimated 1.5 million population of the territory controlled by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, are the most affected, the United Nations children's agency spokesperson told journalists.

While 90% of Gazan children are educated, largely thanks to Unicef and UN Relief and Works Agency schools, poverty still obliges many to work.

They work often in "danger zones" such as smuggling tunnels running under the border from Egypt aimed at defying the Israeli blockade.

To keep working in the tunnels, which could collapse, be bombed or gassed, many youths take Tramadol painkillers, Weibel said.

Explosion in child deaths

Children also work as scrap collectors, scavenging for metal or other materials among the ruins in the buffer zone near the Israeli border where "Israel shoots systematically at anything that moves", Weibel said.

"Children are wounded or killed every week," she said, stressing the despair of adolescents who "don't know what they will become and have the feeling that they're cut off from the rest of the world".

"There has been an explosion in the number of children killed on both sides of the border" since the start of the year, she said.

In 2010, 11 Palestinian children were killed and 360 wounded in the Gaza Strip and Israeli-occupied West Bank. Three Palestinian children were killed and 64 wounded in January and February.

On March 22, two Palestinian children were killed in an Israeli strike as they played football in front of their home in Gaza City.

On Sunday, an Israeli teenager who was seriously wounded in an April 7 rocket attack from Gaza died.

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