Civilian casualties in the Gaza strip, one of the most densely-populated places on the planet, have spiked dramatically in the past week after a series of air strikes carried out by Israeli forces began on 7 July. The operation, codenamed “Protective Edge,” follows a creeping escalation in explosive violence on either side of the border throughout the previous month.
As of 14 July the United Nations had recorded a total of 1,539 Palestinian casualties during the current operation, including 178 deaths. The vast majority of these are the result of missile strikes. Civilians consistently bear the brunt of such explosive violence, particularly when it is carried out in populated areas. By UN estimates, 77% of total deaths were civilians.
A large number of children are among the dead and injured. On 8 July six children aged 8-13 were killed when an air strike hit the Kawara family home in Khan Younis. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) described the incident as a “mistake.” A separate strike, on 11 July, killed four-year-old Sahir Abu Namous as he played outside his family home. “He was just a child,” his cousin told reporters. “He had never done anything to hurt anyone.”
In total 36 children have been killed and another 386 wounded under the current campaign of air strikes, the UN said yesterday.
Children are often the casualties when explosive weapons are used in populated areas. These are weapons that can affect a wide-area and whose impacts are hard to restrict to a specific point. When an air strike hits a town centre or a rocket falls near a busy market, children are frequently caught up in the spreading blast and fragmentation effects, to which they are particularly vulnerable.
Staff at the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City are warning of the “catastrophic effect” of explosive violence for children amid the continuing crisis. Leila Zerrougi, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has condemned the spiralling use of force, and spoken of a crisis for the protection of children.
Beyond the direct casualties, the children of Gaza and southern Israel suffer the wider effects of explosive violence. Falling bombs and rockets frequently damage buildings, and more than a thousand homes have been destroyed or damaged in Gaza in the past week. The UN says that 72 schools have been damaged by shelling.
Those schools still standing are increasingly being used as homes for the displaced, as people flee from the warnings of further violence.
The fierce violence is triggering a crisis in physical and mental health in Gaza, and again, it is children who suffer most. Latest estimates suggest that 22,800 children who have been exposed to violence in the Gaza strip are in need of psychosocial support. Even if the ceasefire proposal brings an end to the current crisis, the effects of explosive violence for children will continue to echo into the future.
The use of heavy explosive weapons in densely-populated area results in a severe and predictable pattern of harm. In 2012, that saw the last such escalation in explosive violence in November,
- AOAV recorded 50 incidents from English-language media where explosive weapons killed or injured children in Gaza. At least 140 children were killed or injured in these attacks.
- Nine of these victims were identified as girls, 20 as boys, and in the remaining 111 cases it was not clearly specified in media reports.
- AOAV recorded 469 civilian casualties during the two week operation in November, meaning that nearly one in four civilian casualties from explosive violence in Gaza were children.
AOAV is a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), and calls for urgent action to limit the harm from explosive weapons in populated areas. To find out more about AOAV’s work on explosive weapons see:
This web article was originally posted by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) on 15 July 2014. The original piece can be found here: http://aoav.org.uk/2014/catastrophic-effect-explosive-weapons-children-gaza/