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‘A curse to be a parent in Gaza’: Inside the region where more than 3,600 children have been killed

Kenzi al Madhoun, a four-year-old who was wounded in Israeli bombardment, lies at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah City, Gaza Strip on Wednesday
Kenzi al Madhoun, a four-year-old who was wounded in Israeli bombardment, lies at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah City, Gaza Strip on Wednesday Copyright AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana
Copyright AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana
By Saskia O'Donoghue with AP
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Gaza Health Ministry data released last week has shown that, as of 26 October, 2,001 children ages 12 and under had been killed - including 615 who were 3 or younger. That figure is expected to rise as the war rages on.

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More than 3,600 Palestinian children were killed in the first 25 days of the war between Israel and Hamas, according to Gaza's Hamas-run Health Ministry.

They lost their lives via airstrikes, misfired rockets, blasts and falling buildings.

Among them were newborns and toddlers, avid readers, aspiring journalists and children who thought they'd be safe in a church.

Nearly half of the crowded strip's 2.3 million inhabitants are under 18 and, tragically but perhaps unsurprisingly, children account for 40% of those killed so far in the war with Israel.

Many of them were just 12 years old or under.

“When houses are destroyed, they collapse on the heads of children.”
Writer Adam al-Madhoun speaking on Wednesday as he comforted his 4-year-old daughter Kenzi at the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital

Israel says its airstrikes target Hamas militant sites and infrastructure while accusing the group of using civilians as human shields. It also claims that more than 500 militant rockets have misfired and landed in Gaza, killing an unknown number of Palestinians.

More children have been killed in just over three weeks in Gaza than in all of the world's conflicts combined in each of the past three years, according to the global charity Save the Children.

Last year, 2,985 children were killed in total across two dozen war zones.

“Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children."
James Elder
Spokesperson for UNICEF

Images of shell-shocked children being pulled from rubble in Gaza or writhing on dirty hospital trolleys have become commonplace and have fueled countless protests around the world.

Scenes from recent airstrikes included a rescuer cradling a limp toddler in a bloodied white tutu, a bespectacled father shrieking as he clutched his dead child tight to his chest, and a dazed young boy covered in blood and dust staggering alone through the ruins.

A Palestinian man cries while holding a dead child who was found under the rubble of a destroyed building following Israeli airstrikes in Nusseirat refugee camp on Tuesday
A Palestinian man cries while holding a dead child who was found under the rubble of a destroyed building following Israeli airstrikes in Nusseirat refugee camp on TuesdayMohammed Dahman/The AP

The trauma is nothing new for parents in the war-torn enclave, but is making life even harder for those already affected.

“It's a curse to be a parent in Gaza,” said Ahmed Modawikh, a 40-year-old carpenter from Gaza City whose life was shattered by the death of his 8-year-old daughter during five days of fighting in May.

It’s a devastating picture for children across the divide in Israel too.

During Hamas' brutal rampage on 7 October across southern Israel that sparked this war, its gunmen killed more than 1,400 people.

Among them were babies and other small children, Israeli officials have said, though they haven't yet provided exact figures.

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Around 30 children were also among the roughly 240 hostages Hamas took, with many thought to be still in captivity in the spider web-like tunnels below Gaza.

As Israeli warplanes pound Gaza, Palestinian children huddle with large families in apartments or UN-run shelters. Although Israel has urged Palestinians to leave northern Gaza for the strip's south, nowhere in the territory has proven safe from its airstrikes.

Palestinians try to pull a girl out of the rubble of a building that was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday
Palestinians try to pull a girl out of the rubble of a building that was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip on WednesdayAbed Khaled/The AP

“People are running from death only to find death,” said Yasmine Jouda, who lost 68 family members in airstrikes on 22 October which razed two four-story buildings in Deir al-Balah, where they had sought refuge from northern Gaza.

The strike's only survivor was Jouda's year-old niece Milissa, whose mother had gone into labour during the attack and was found dead beneath the rubble, the heads of her lifeless twin newborns emerging from her birth canal.

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“What did this tiny baby do to deserve a life without any family?” Jouda said.

Israel blames Hamas for Gaza's death toll - now rapidly approaching 9,000, according to Gaza's Health Ministry - because the militant group operates from jam-packed residential neighbourhoods.

Palestinians in turn point to the soaring casualty count as proof that Israeli strikes are indiscriminate and disproportionate.

The war has injured more than 7,000 Palestinian children and left many with life changing problems, doctors say.

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Just before the war, Jouda's niece Milissa walked a few paces for the first time. She will never walk again. Doctors say the airstrike that killed the girl's family fractured her spine and paralysed her from the chest down.

Just down the hall from her in the teeming central Gaza hospital, 4-year-old Kenzi woke up screaming, asking what had happened to her missing right arm.

“It will take so much care and work just to get her to the point of having half a normal life,” her father said.

Palestinians carry a wounded girl after being rescued from under the rubble of buildings that were destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Jabaliya refugee camp on Wednesday
Palestinians carry a wounded girl after being rescued from under the rubble of buildings that were destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Jabaliya refugee camp on WednesdayAbed Khaled/The AP

Even those physically unscathed may be scarred by war's ravages.

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For 15-year-olds in Gaza, it’s their fifth Israel-Hamas war since the militant group seized control of the enclave in 2007. All they’ve known is life under a punishing Israeli-Egyptian blockade that prevents them from travelling abroad and crushes their hopes for the future.

The strip has a 70% youth unemployment rate, according to the World Bank.

“There is no hope for these children to develop careers, improve their standard of living, access better healthcare and education,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director for Defense for Children International in the Palestinian territories.

But in this war, he added, "it's about life and death.”

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In Gaza, death is everywhere.

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