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Yearender 2023: As Israel-Hamas conflict drags on, children of war on both sides of Gaza fall out of focus

As has been widely reported and well documented, Israel declared war on Hamas after suffering, arguably the worst terror attack on its soil on October 7 as armed fighters from the Palestinian terror group raided the country by land, air and sea, snuffing out lives which, according to official Israeli estimates, was pegged at 1,200.

Yearender 2023: As Israel-Hamas conflict drags on, children of war on both sides of Gaza fall out of focus

Representative image (Reuters)

NEW DELHI: As the Israel-Hamas war enters day 86, the discourse or discussion majorly continues to centre around the casualties, spoils and collateral damage.

However, the children on both sides--those who fell clueless victims to the terror and the retaliatory devastation that followed or the ones who survived and are watching helplessly as bombs and shells turn Gaza into a city of ruins--are strangely falling out focus or being shoved in the footnotes.

As has been widely reported and well documented, Israel declared war on Hamas after suffering, arguably the worst terror attack on its soil on October 7 as armed fighters from the Palestinian terror group raided the country by land, air and sea, snuffing out lives which, according to official Israeli estimates, was pegged at 1,200.

While the long trail of death and devastation in the sleepy kibbutzes of southern Israel sent shockwaves across the globe, among the unarmed civilians who were mercilessly slaughtered by the masked gunmen were children.

At least 33 children, including some barely months old, lay dead in their cots in the wake of the October 7 attacks, with their throats slashed or bodies carved open.

And, as if that wasn't enough, an estimated 40 children were taken as hostages by Hamas terrorists. The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, addressing a session of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), said a child is killed every 10 minutes in Gaza. "Tens of thousands of displaced people are sheltering at hospitals.

Families crammed into overcrowded schools, desperate for food and water. More than 10,800 people have now been killed in Gaza, almost 70 per cent of them women and children; on average, a child is killed every ten minutes.

In Gaza, 1.5 million people have been displaced and are looking for shelter anywhere they can find it. But nowhere and no one is safe. Nowhere and no one is safe," Tedros said.

In an earlier address at the UNSC in November, the WHO chief sought to draw the attention of the global community to the safety of children in battleground Gaza in the face of a relentless assault from Israel and the collapsing healthcare across the Gaza Strip.

As the war in Gaza turns grimmer by the day, with more lives lost and concrete debris from bombed buildings piling up, the children have an everyday struggle in their hands just to stay alive.

According to German media publication DW, citing Israeli media reports, the children living in southern Israel also remain at the receiving end of the conflict.

Some parents have even stated that their children have not been able to sleep in their beds due to extreme fear and constant bombings since the war broke out.

A mother of two, Sapir Fischer-Turgeman from Ashkelon, a seaside town close to Gaza, told DW that in 2015, she finished her mandatory military duty in the IDF as a communications officer.

Opening up about how she noted a significant shift in the behavioural patterns of her children since the fighting started, she said, "We noticed one of our kids is much more aggressive and impatient."

This, despite her and her partner's best efforts to shield the children from learning about the fights as much as possible. Some Israeli parents said their kids don't sleep in their bedrooms as they're afraid.

"It's hard for them to stay at home the whole time, but there is no choice as there are barely any safe areas to protect ourselves from rockets on the streets and near playing grounds in Ashkelon," DW quoted Fischer-Turgeman as saying.

Sapir Fischer-Turgeman, however, is not the only mother or parent to be grappling with the grim fallout of the war and helplessly watching affect their children in the form of an emotional meltdown. A similar predicament faces tens of thousands of Palestinian parents in Gaza.

More than 4,600 children have reportedly been killed, with nearly 9,000 reported injured, according to figures from the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza from November.

However, these numbers have not been independently verified. With nearly 47.3 per cent of the 2.2 million citizens under the age of 18, as per the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Gaza's population is relatively young.

Moreover, the ongoing conflict has displaced 1.5 million people from Gaza so far, out of which, at least 700,000 are children, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Children in Gaza are accustomed to hardship and military build-up.

Since the Hamas overthrew the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Israel and Egypt have maintained a harsh land and sea blockade of Gaza. However, Gaza has continued to remain a conflict zone for decades now, with not just civilians but even children being at the receiving end of seemingly endless violence involving Israel and Hamas. According to Israeli media reports, the youngest hostage taken by Hamas was a 9-month-old baby. The Israeli Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs reported that 21 children were left orphaned as a result of the incident. Of them, sixteen had both parents slaughtered, two were the slain offspring of single moms, and three more had one parent killed and the other either kidnapped or reported "missing." Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the European Union, the United States, Germany, and many other nations. In the latest development, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) asked residents in many parts of central Gaza to leave immediately while its operations against Hamas continue, according to CNN.

In a message posted in Arabic on X, the IDF urged residents in 15 identified blocks south of Wadi Gaza to move to shelters. The regions include the Al-Bureij refugee camp.

In its message, the IDF said people in the identified blocks "must immediately move to the shelters in Deir al-Balah. A temporary tactical local suspension of military activities will be imposed for humanitarian purposes in the southern neighbourhood of Deir al-Balah from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm for provisions purposes," CNN reported.

The IDF urged people not to move along the central axis, the Salah Al-Din road, due to the fighting in the Khan Younis area of Gaza. It said, "The IDF will allow the humanitarian movement of civilians through the bypass axis west of Khan Younis."

Meanwhile, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) located and destroyed three terror tunnel shafts belonging to the Hamas terror organisation near the Rantisi Hospital and in the nearby high School on Wednesday this week.

The tunnel shafts that the Hamas fighters used are dozens of metres deep and are linked by an underground network that runs beneath the hospital and into Gaza City.

"IDF troops are uncovering Hamas' tunnels inside and around multiple hospitals within Gaza. The Rantisi Hospital is just another terrorist stronghold used to connect and transfer terrorists and weapons throughout Gaza to be used against Israelis," the IDF wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter), after recovering the tunnel.

In recent weeks, IDF soldiers led by the 162nd Division's 401st Brigade, in collaboration with Flotilla 13 and the 'Yahalom' Unit, discovered and searched three active tunnel shafts near Rantisi Hospital.

'Yahalom' soldiers searched the region, as well as, the shafts and tunnels, employing a variety of methods to map the topography of the tunnels and the linkages between the shafts.

Notably, Yahalom is a sayeret unit of the Israeli Combat Engineering Corps of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). According to the IDF, this operation revealed that the shafts are connected by a wide underground network passing under the hospital, spanning several kilometres, and leading to strategic points in the heart of Gaza City.

"The tunnel in Rantisi is close to a school and leads to another school in the area. The tunnel also served as a command and control centre for conducting combat in the northern Gaza Strip and for carrying out terrorist attacks," the IDF said.

The Israeli forces said that the operational shaft was located in a girls' school in the area was about 20 metres deep and included an elevator and electrical infrastructure. "Following intelligence information directed by Unit 504 of the Intelligence Directorate, another operational shaft was located inside one of the hideout residences used by one of the commanders of Hamas' naval unit in the Gaza Strip," the IDF said.

Junctions and blast doors were placed in the tunnels' topography to prevent IDF soldiers from breaking in and to secure the tunnel system.

The tunnel infrastructure and shafts were demolished in a coordinated operation by soldiers from the 'Yahalom' Unit and engineering soldiers from the 14th Brigade, the IDF added. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, for a number of times made it clear that Israel would not agree to a ceasefire, drawing parallels to the United States' position after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. He had noted that calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas.

"Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terror, to surrender to barbarism. That will not happen. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bible says that there is a time for peace and a time for war. This is a time for war. A war for a common future," Netanyahu had said earlier in a press briefing.

It has been twelve weeks into the war and the populace has been left on their own with little assistance arriving to support the basic amenities. There aren't many vehicles carrying international aid that can pass through the Rafah crossing from Egypt, and most Palestinians are stuck in this small enclave, with least or no aid.

The second tranche of humanitarian aid for the people of Palestine from India reached Egypt in November. The relief material was handed over to the Egyptian Red Crescent for further transmission to Palestine. Sharing this on social media X, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had stated, "2nd tranche of humanitarian assistance for the people of Palestine arrives in Egypt. Relief material handed over to Egyptian Red Crescent for further transmission to Palestine."

Earlier, India sent 38 tonnes of humanitarian relief for civilians caught up in the ongoing ground offensive by the Israeli forces in the Strip. The aid package comprised fluids and painkillers.

The disaster relief material, weighing approximately 32 tonnes, also included tents, sleeping bags, tarpaulins, basic sanitary utilities, and water purification tablets, among other items. When Hamas launched the rocket attacks on Israel in October, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first leaders to condemn the terrorist attack. Expressing solidarity with Israel in the wake of the deadly rocket strikes by Hamas, PM Modi said that the thoughts of people were with the innocent victims and their families.

"Deeply shocked by the news of terrorist attacks in Israel. Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour," PM Modi had posted on X. The conflict in Gaza escalated after the October 7 attack by Hamas, where about 2,500 terrorists breached the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip, leading to casualties and the seizure of hostages. Israel has characterised its Gaza offensive as targeting Hamas' infrastructure with the eventual goal of eliminating the entire terror group while making efforts to minimize civilian casualties.

Reflecting on past interactions with families of fallen IDF (Israel Defence Forces) soldiers, Netanyahu on Tuesday (December 26) conveyed Israel's determination, stating, "Our sons did not die in vain. We must not stop the war until we secure complete victory over those who wish us dead." Following this, family members in the Knesset gallery reiterated their calls, chanting, "Everyone - now! Everyone - now!" Netanyahu emphasised the government's relentless efforts, asserting, "We will shake every tree and turn every stone to bring back all the kidnapped. Each one of them is precious. Since the beginning of the war, I have met with the families of the abductees, and I hear your personal stories. What is said here unites the people and unites us in a holy mission."

There are 129 hostages still in Gaza, according to the Israeli prime minister's office. Of those, 22 are known to be dead, and their bodies remain in Gaza along with the 107 living hostages. A catastrophic humanitarian disaster unfolds as a deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas continues. More than 1,200 casualties have been reported in Israel, and since Hamas launched unprecedented strikes on Israel on October 7, more than 20,000 people are said to have lost their lives in Gaza, according to the Ministry of Health under Hamas control. An estimated one million people have been internally displaced in Gaza, an area noted for having a dense population, as a result of the subsequent bombings, which have overwhelmed the region's hospitals.

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