Death toll of Palestinian children spirals as Israel expands Gaza offensive

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Ramallah, July 21, 2014—The death toll of Palestinian children has spiraled since the launch of a ground invasion on the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military on July 17. The total number of confirmed deaths now stands at 73, with a further 73 cases being investigated by DCI-Palestine.

he invasion has seen heavy artillery fire and constant airstrikes batter the Gaza Strip since Thursday. Sunday became the bloodiest day of the fortnight-long Israeli military offensive so far, with at least 100 civilians killed as Israeli troops advanced into Shuja'iyya, a crowded residential neighborhood of Gaza City. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday brought 28 child fatalities.

"As well as child fatalities, an estimated 72,000 children are suffering from trauma resulting from death, injury or loss of homes," said Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. "Israel must immediately halt its ongoing attacks on the Gaza Strip before thousands more lives are disrupted."

Three days, 28 fatalities

Seven children died on the evening of Thursday, July 17, shortly before the Israeli military began its ground operation. Mohammad Ibrahim Ali Inteez, 12, died along with his 1-year-old nephew, Mohammad Salem Ibrahim Inteez, when an artillery shell targeted their building in Gaza City's Al-Shaath neighborhood as they hid in the stairwell. In Gaza City's Al-Sabra neighborhood, three members of the Shhaiber family, Afnan, 8, Wasim, 9, and Jihad, 10, died when an Israeli drone fired a missile at their building as they played on the roof.

Also on Thursday, Yamen Riyad Hasan al-Hmaidi, 4, from Al-Zawaida in central Gaza, and Rahaf Khalil Hamad al-Jabour, 3, from Khan Younis in southern Gaza, died in separate incidents when they sustained head injuries from shrapnel in the wake of nearby explosions.

On Friday, July 18, 13 children were killed. Five children from the Abu Jarad family died when Israeli artillery shells struck their homes in the northern Gaza city of Beit Hanoun. The explosion killed 7-month-old baby Musa, his siblings Sameeh, 1, and Haniyeh, 2, and his cousins Samar, 14 and Ahlam, 17. Also in Beit Hanoun, three brothers were killed in an artillery shell attack. Mohammad Ismail Mohammad Abu Muslim, 15, and his younger brothers Wala, 12, and Ahmad, 11, died instantly when the missile hit their home.

Four children died in Gaza City's Al-Tuffah neighborhood. Imad Hamed Fayeq Elwan, 7, and his brother Qasem, 4, died instantly when an artillery shell struck their bedroom. A drone missile hit 9-year-old Sara Mohammad Rebhi Bustan as she shopped at the local grocery store with her cousin. Rizq Ahmad Adnan al-Hayek, 1, died as he was riding his bicycle in the corridor of his home when it was targeted in an artillery attack.

In Khan Younis, 14-year-old Amjad Salem Khamis Shaath died as he was sitting with his family close to their house when a drone missile targeted the area.

On Saturday, July 19, a further eight children were killed. In Beit Hanoun, two sisters, Nagham Mahmoud Abdulhameed Zwaidi, 3, and Ru'ya, 6, died as they sheltered with their family in a relative's apartment, which was struck by an artillery shell.

A family from Beit Lahia in northern Gaza lost two children, Mohammad Rafeeq Ahmad al-Rahl,17, and Mohammad Ziyad Saleh al-Rahl, 5, who were killed by flying shrapnel caused by a nearby explosion. Also in Beit Lahia, 10-year-old Omar Jameel Subhi Hammouda and his cousin died instantly upon impact from a drone missile that landed next to them while they stood in the city center with a neighbor.

In Khan Younis, Wasim Rida Mustafa Salhiya, 15, and Mohammad Bassam Mohammad al-Sarri, 16, died as they stood with a group of neighbors near a local store when a drone missile targeted the crowd. In Rafah in southern Gaza, Mahmoud Anwar Mohammad Abu Shabab, 16, died when a shell landed in his street close to where he was playing with his brothers.

Ceasefire attempts

Sharply rising civilian casualties have caused concern among the international community, with US President Barack Obama and the UN calling for an immediate cessation of the hostilities.

International law demands that civilian structures such as hospitals, schools and homes not be the object of an attack. Israel, as the occupying power under international law, is required to protect Palestinian civilians living in Gaza, including children, against all acts of violence. Directly targeting civilians or failing to adequately distinguish between civilian and military objects violates international humanitarian law. Israel's military offensive on the Gaza Strip has been characterized by the direct targeting of civilian homes and infrastructure, and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, which constitutes a war crime.

While Israeli officials claim that Israeli forces do not target hospitals, on Monday, Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah became the fourth hospital to be attacked.

A conclusive ceasefire deal has so far failed to materialize, with even those arranged to allow for ambulances to evacuate the dead and injured failing to hold for the duration of the agreement. The arrival of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry in the region on Monday heralds a further diplomatic push to end the violence. As yet, however, an end to the conflict appears distant, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating that he is prepared to expand the operation “until the goal is achieved.”

Hamas, meanwhile, has responded to the Israeli ground invasion with further rocket attacks, some missiles reaching Tel Aviv. On the Israeli side, two civilians and 18 soldiers have been confirmed dead since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge. The majority of Israeli casualties have taken place since Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip last Thursday.

The toll inflicted on children has been a central factor in international efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement. The targeting of civilian buildings and residential neighborhoods suggests that the death toll will continue to rise further before a ceasefire agreement is reached.