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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
6 October 2004

Gaza offensive levels kindergarten

GAZA CITY, 6 October 2004 -
At 3 a.m. on a fog-shrouded morning, Israeli military vehicles opened fire on an area in the Gaza Strip near the Rawdet Tal Zaatar kindergarten.

"I was with my wife and six children. We hid in the kitchen to protect ourselves from the missile attack and gunfire," said Jabr, a middle-aged Palestinian man who has run the kindergarten for five years.

When the hundreds of schoolchildren arrived later that morning they found their school reduced to rubble. "I felt unfairness and injustice when I saw the destroyed kindergarten. Palestinian children are being deprived of their basic rights to play and learn peacefully," Jabr said.

The attack was part of an Israeli Defence Force operation in North Gaza which has so far claimed the lives of dozens of Palestinians.

Almost one-third of the casualties have been children.

The military operation, which began on 28 September, has also damaged and destroyed homes and schools in Tal Zaatar. Most of the 1,000 or so residents of the town formerly worked on the Israeli side of the tightly sealed Gaza Strip. Because of movement restrictions, almost all are now unemployed.

Tal Zaatar is six kilometres from Gaza City, in what is considered the 'breadbasket' of the Gaza Strip. Until now it has escaped military attack.

Denisa Ionete, Chief of Health in UNICEF's Occupied Palestinian Territory office, said: "It is very important in the early stages of conflict that children are able to resume normal activities, such as schooling and playgroups, as soon as possible. This is our strategy. We will try as quickly as possible to get this facility operational again."

UNICEF has been providing educational materials to the kindergarten for some time. Support also comes from Worldvision, the Palestinian Authority, and the World Council of Churches.

The kindergarten caters to almost 500 children between the ages 3-4 years old and is run by 18 teachers. Because tuition fees are minimal, it's popular with parents in an area where almost three-quarters of all people live close to, or under, the poverty line.

School officials estimate that the damages amount to more than US$20,000. As part of its emergency response UNICEF will provide tents as well as necessary educational material. UNICEF project officers said they would first identify a safe place for a temporary facility, so that children will have maximum protection.

"On behalf of the 500 children, I ask the children of the world to stand up for the rights of Tal Zaatar children and all Palestinian children, to call for their protection and to give them their rights like all children of the world," said Jabr.

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