Interview. Children already show signs of PTSD, said Jonathan Crickx of Unicef. ‘We call for an immediate end to hostilities: children are suffering the impact of war more than anyone else. And this time is worse than the other times.’

Unicef spokesperson in Palestine: ‘There is no more formula’

The numbers were published by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor on Saturday: since the previous Saturday, the Israeli army had killed one Palestinian every ten minutes. Of the more than 2,300 killed, a full third of them, 724, are children. Gaza has a very young population: over 40% are under 14 years old. This means that half of its inhabitants were born after the first major Israeli offensive on the Strip, Operation Cast Lead, in 2008-2009. They have lived through at least five offensives since then.
We talked about this with Jonathan Crickx, spokesman for Unicef in Palestine.

A staggering number of children have lost their lives since Saturday, in the Hamas attack and operation against Gaza.

This is the most horrific aspect: hundreds and hundreds of children have been killed and injured since last Saturday, both in Palestine and in Israel. In Israel we don’t have a definite tally of the number of minors among the 1,300 victims on October 7; but we know that there are many of them. On the Palestinian side, the latest numbers are 724 children killed and more than 2,400 injured. I am speechless: that is a huge number in such a short time.

Minors also make up a large share of those displaced. Where are they taking refuge? It seems that there are no safe places: a school in Jabaliya was bombed.

On the ground, the situation in Gaza is catastrophic. Constant shelling and mass displacement of children and their families, over 420,000 people. And this was before the call for the population to move away. Imagine the situation: the infrastructure is damaged, there is very little water, very little food, almost no medicine. There are no safe havens in the Strip. We are extremely concerned. Add to that the shelling of schools and hospitals. We are calling for a humanitarian ceasefire and humanitarian corridors to bring aid to the people of Gaza.

Could water and food shortages cause “indirect” deaths, from dehydration, starvation and disease?

This is an important point. Water is so scarce that there is a risk of dehydration and the spread of disease. The water that is there isn’t safe. We are especially worried about infants; there is no more formula.

Your staff in Gaza is still working.

We have local staff and I am impressed by how much they are able to do. Our colleagues are keeping the Unicef desalination plant working and delivering clean water to 75,000 people. And then they’re working on delivering medicine and medical equipment to hospitals. Some might deem it superfluous, but we also deliver recreational kits to children in shelters: books, toys to help them cope. Unicef has started the plan for crisis management, both locally and at its headquarters: our policy is to stay and deliver, there are no plans to evacuate the staff.

Do you keep in contact with them?

We have regular contact with our Gaza employees by text message because the Internet connection is very weak. Even phone calls are difficult.

You spoke of the need to assist children psychologically as well, in an environment marked by cyclical violence.

Two-thirds of Gaza’s children have already shown symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress) in the past: difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression. Unicef has been providing psychosocial and medical support for years. In this latest escalation, the trauma is also affecting Israeli children exposed to the rockets and the October 7 attack. We call for an immediate end to hostilities: children are suffering the impact of war more than anyone else. And this time is worse than the other times.

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