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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

As UN aid operations are suspended, a Gaza teenager describes life amidst conflict

© REUTERS/Mustafa
Palestinian boys look at a house destroyed after an air strike in Khan Younis, southern Gaza.

NEW YORK, USA, 8 January 2009 – As fighting in the Gaza Strip continued into its 13th day today, UN humanitarian assistance in the territory was suspended for an indefinite period because of the danger facing aid workers there. The the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced the suspension of aid operations due to "increasing hostile actions against its premises and personnel."

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there is a critical need for fuel, food, and medical supplies in Gaza. During a brief ceasefire yesterday, UNICEF was able to distribute some family water kits and health kits. But much more aid is needed. 

The fighting has been particularly difficult on children in Gaza. UNICEF is working with child-protection partners to produce and broadcast radio and television messages designed to help parents keep children safe, and to identify and manage symptoms of distress. Over 14,000 people – including an estimated 7,840 children – were staying in 23 emergency shelters in Gaza as of Tuesday morning. Schools remained closed.

As one local resident, Yasmin, 16, told UNICEF Radio in a telephone interview: "There's no school to go to for education or to learn, because there is no safety in the streets."

Schools, mosques hit by bombing

A school run by UNRWA in Gaza City – where hundreds had taken shelter – was bombed on Monday, resulting in fatalities and injuries. Also on Monday, a rocket fired from Gaza hit a kindergarten in southern Israel, damaging the school. There were no fatalities.

A Palestinian woman waits to receive food supplies at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters in Gaza on 7 January 2009, before the suspension of UN aid operations.

Yasmin's own home in Gaza was damaged by aerial bombing early in the military campaign. 

"There was a mosque. They bombed it. It was in front of my window of my room." she said. "I was so scared because all the window broke down and fell into my bed. I was sleeping. I was dreaming. I started crying. So I jumped out of the bed and then I moved out of the room and went to my parents' room and I slept all night with them."

An 18-month embargo imposed on Gaza has made it difficult to find glass in the territory, Yasmin noted. "We put aluminium foil up [in the window pane] just to defend against the winter," she said.

Peace will be ‘very hard’

The main military campaign has since moved north of her home, and Yasmin has resumed sleeping in her room. She still cannot leave her home.

"I can't even walk out of the door," she said. "It's very dangerous." She talks to her friends on the phone and through e-mail when there is electricity.

"It's very hard to think about peace," Yasmin said, "because both Hamas and Israel don't want to have peace. But maybe if they can talk to each other, they can share opinions. Maybe. It's very hard."

If she had the chance to talk to the leaders on both sides, Yasmin would tell them to stop the fighting. "We want to live,” she said. “We are human beings and we want to live."




6 January 2009:
Yasmin, 16, speaks to UNICEF Radio from her home in Gaza City.
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