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Incursion into Rafah puts 1.4 million Palestinians at catastrophic risks - UNICEF

Incursion into Rafah puts 1.4 million Palestinians at catastrophic risks - UNICEF
8 May 2024 08:24

SHABAAN BILAL (CAIRO)

The Regional Media Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Ammar Ammar, has issued a stern warning against any military siege or ground incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, emphasising the catastrophic risks to the city’s population, which includes over 1.4 million Palestinians - 600,000 of whom are children.

In an interview with Aletihad, Ammar reported that the ongoing conflict, now surpassing 200 days, has precipitated an unprecedented crisis for children amid worsening humanitarian conditions. He detailed that countless children in Gaza are experiencing malnutrition, shock, or disabilities, exacerbated by repeated displacements and the loss of homes and family members.

Ammar stressed the urgent need for protection, shelter, and medical services for children in Rafah, highlighting that a military siege and ground incursion would pose dire risks to the 600,000 children residing there. He noted that the initial evacuation orders in eastern Rafah affected 100,000 people, with the entire Rafah population - half of whom are children - facing imminent danger from any military operation. The broader ramifications, he warned, would impact all of Gaza’s 2.2 million inhabitants.
The UN official further explained that the Rafah crossing is pivotal for all humanitarian responses, and its closure significantly disrupts aid delivery, which is already severely constrained.

Ammar elaborated that the closure of crossing points severely reduces aid access, which is already minimal due to existing restrictions. He reported that hundreds of thousands of children in the area suffer from disabilities or medical conditions that heighten their vulnerability to the looming military actions in Rafah, including 65,000 children with pre-existing disabilities - such as visual, hearing, and mobility impairments - and 72,000 infants and 8,000 children under two who are severely malnourished. Additionally, 175,000 children under five are afflicted with communicable diseases.

Ammar underscored the critical need for mental health services and psychosocial support for all children, warning that any disruption in aid access could devastate the already dire humanitarian situation. 
He noted that fuel shortages threaten all essential services, including aid delivery and healthcare operations.

Ammar asserted that any military operation in Rafah would expose children to increased malnutrition, illness, and a heightened risk of death. He urged Israel to honour its humanitarian duties under international law, providing food, and medical supplies, and facilitating relief operations.

Ammar emphasised that an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, with secure access for humanitarian organisations to aid children and their families, represents the only hope to end this humanitarian disaster. Finally, he called for the protection of civilians and critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and shelters, and stressed the need to safeguard children and families who are unable or unwilling to evacuate following orders in Rafah.

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