By Sabine Dolan
NEW YORK, USA, 12 December 2006 – The killing of three young brothers in Gaza City yesterday has shocked the Palestinian community across the political divide and exposed, once again, the plight of children living in the volatile region.
“I am shocked by the tragic event,” stated UNICEF’s Special Representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Dan Rohrmann. “This is another event highlighting the serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory – and with tragic consequences for civilians, including children.”
Masked gunmen shot at a car carrying the three boys, between the ages of four and nine, on their way to school. Their father, Baha Balousha, is a senior intelligence officer and Fatah member. No one has claimed responsibility for the killings.
Four child bystanders were injured during the shooting, which took place in a street crowded with children. An adult was also killed.
Fears of escalation
“This has been a tragic year for Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank,” said Mr. Rohrmann. “It’s been one of the deadliest years that we have seen.”
So far this year, 123 Palestinian children have been killed – more than double the 2005 figure. In Gaza alone, 103 children have been killed.
The latest attack has been condemned by outraged Palestinians and has triggered a wave of protests, including demonstrations by mothers and children. But the event is also raising fears of an escalation in factional clashes.
“People now have a feeling of hopelessness” explained Mr. Rohrmann. “Poverty has hit an all-time high at around 70 per cent, unemployment is around 40 per cent and these have had dire consequences for the Palestinian population. They’re hit from too many angles and there is nothing they can hold onto anymore. All coping mechanisms are down.”
Protecting children’s rights
The tragedy comes in the wake of one of the most difficult and stressful periods in Gaza’s recent history – a time when children have been denied their rights to health, education and protection.
In August, UN humanitarian agencies working in the area stated their alarm over the impact of ongoing violence on civilians and civilian infrastructure. The hostilities have resulted in a sharp decline in the situation facing Gaza’s 1.4 million people– more than half of them children.
“As UNICEF today marks its 60th anniversary,” said Mr. Rohrmann, “I call upon all parties to protect children’s rights.”