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One third of Gaza dead are children

More than 250 children have been killed in the Gaza fighting, according to the UN.





Children make up more than half of the crowded region's 1.4 million population and are the most defenceless victims of the war between Israel and Hamas.

The Israeli army has unleashed unprecedented force in its campaign against Hamas militants, who have been taking cover among civilians.

A photo of four-year-old Kaukab Al Dayah, just her bloodied head sticking out from the rubble of her home, covered many front pages in the Arab world earlier this week. "This is Israel," read the headline in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Kaukab was killed on Tuesday when an F-16 attacked her family's four-storey home in Gaza City. Four adults also died.

As many as 257 children have been killed and 1,080 wounded - about a third of the total casualties since December 27, the UN said yesterday.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas in response to its repeated rocket attacks on southern Israel, and is doing its utmost to avoid civilian deaths.

However foreign aid officials say that civilians cannot escape blockaded Gaza and that bombing crowded areas inevitably leads to civilian casualties.

The Israeli military has used tank and artillery shells, as well as large aerial bombs.

Children have been killed in strikes on their houses, while travelling in cars with their parents, while playing in the streets, walking to a grocery and even at UN shelters.

Sayed, Mohammed and Raida Abu Aisheh - ages 12, 8 and 7 - were at home with their parents when they were all killed in an Israeli airstrike before dawn on Monday. The family had remained in the ground floor apartment of their three-storey building, while the rest of the extended clan sought refuge in the basement from heavy bombardment of nearby Hamas installations.

In the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, doctors found four young children next to their dead mothers in a house, the Red Cross said.

In the Jebaliya refugee camp, five sisters from the Balousha family, ages 4, 8, 11, 14 and 17, were buried together in white shrouds on December 29. An Israeli airstrike on a mosque, presumably a Hamas target, had destroyed their adjacent house. Only their parents and a baby girl survived.

Israel accuses Hamas of cynically exploiting Gaza's civilians and using them as human shields. The military has released video footage showing militants firing mortars from the rooftops of homes and mosques.

In the chaos of Gaza, it is difficult to get exact casualty figures. Since December 27, at least 750 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza Health Ministry officials.

At least 169 were 17 and younger, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which has staff at hospitals to track casualties. Unicef said at least 100 children were killed in the first 10 days of fighting.

"We are talking about urban war," said a spokesman for Unicef in the Middle East and North Africa. "The density of the population is so high, it's bound to hurt children ... This is a unique conflict, where there is nowhere to go."

Successive generations of Gaza children have grown up with violence, part of the accelerating conflict with Israel. In the late 1980s, many threw stones at Israeli soldiers in a revolt against occupation. In the second uprising, starting in 2000, some were recruited by Hamas as suicide bombers.

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