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War on Gaza: Over 20,000 children missing due to Israeli assault

Save the Children says thousands are lost, disappeared, detained or buried under rubble or in mass graves
Palestinian children amid the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Khan Younis, on 21 June 2024 (Eyad Baba / AFP)

More than 20,000 Palestinian children are missing in Gaza as a result of Israel's assault on the enclave, either lost, disappeared, detained, buried under rubble or in mass graves.

Save the Children said that, while the ongoing conflict made verifying figures difficult, it estimated that at least 17,000 children are believed to be unaccompanied and separated while some 4,000 children are likely under the rubble.

A further number are suspected to be buried in mass graves scattered across the Gaza Strip.

It said its child protection teams had been put under further strain as a result of Israel's operation in Rafah and that more families and communities were being separated from their children as a result.

"Every day we find more unaccompanied children, and every day it is harder to support them. We work through partners to identify separated and unaccompanied children and trace their families, but there are no safe facilities for them - there is no safe place in Gaza," a Save the Children child protection specialist in Gaza said in a statement.

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"Neighbours and extended family members who have taken in lone children are struggling to meet their basic needs, such as shelter, food, and water. Many are with strangers - or completely alone - increasing the risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect."

The Palestinan health ministry on Sunday said that a total of 37,598 people had been killed since 7 October, with at least 14,000 of them children.

Human rights groups and UN experts have accused Israel of collective punishment against Palestinians since the Hamas-led attack on 7 October, including the use of starvation as a weapon of war. Dozens of children are thought to have died in Gaza as a result of malnutrition.

The director of northern Gaza's Kamal Adwan Hospital said on Saturday that four children had died of malnutrition there in a single week.

"We lost a child in the nursery department of the hospital during the past few hours. He is the fourth child to die in the hospital in the last week due to malnutrition," he said in a news conference.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza caused by Israel's bombardment and siege is likely to worsen due to scorching heat, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Friday. 

The WHO has called for the reopening of the Rafah crossing, seized by Israel in early May and subsequently destroyed, to facilitate aid and medical evacuations for 10,000 wounded people needing treatment abroad.

As the civilian death toll and humanitarian conditions, particularly the growing hunger crisis in northern Gaza, continues to worsen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied deliberately targeting civilians or imposing a starvation policy.

In an interview with conservative US outlet Punchbowl News published on 21 June, Netanyahu labelled the accusations as "blood libel against the Jewish people". 

"These are two of these slanders that are levelled at the Jewish state, much as they said that we are killing Christian children to bake Matzos in the Middle Ages or that we're spreading vermin to poison the entire populations."

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