BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Children are suffering from the devastating consequences of escalating Israeli violence in the Gaza Strip, with entire families lost in single airstrikes and severe physical injuries likely to require long-term medical treatment.
UNICEF estimates that 121 children have been killed since Israel's assault began on July 8, with the death toll in Gaza now standing at over 500 Palestinians.
In the past 24 hours, 28 children were killed - among them 20 in Gaza City's besieged Shujaiyeh neighborhood alone.
Over 80 of those killed are 12 or younger. An estimated one-third of all civilian casualties are children, UNICEF says.
"This is the highest number (of child deaths) since Operation Cast Lead. It is a huge toll, and rising, and more worryingly, 76 children were killed in the past three days," Ivan Karakashian, from Defense for Children International - Palestine Section, told Ma'an.
On July 16, four
children aged nine to 11, were killed by Israeli military shelling while playing on a beach in Gaza City, one of the territory's few open and free spaces accessible for children and adults alike.
Days later, three
children aged seven to 10 were killed while feeding ducks on the roof of their Gaza City home.
On Monday, five members of the al-Yaziji family, nine members of the al-Qassas family, 11 members of the Siyam family at least 26 members of the Abu Jami family were killed in Israeli airstrikes.
"There is no safe place for children at this moment, no safe havens to escape to. Israel says it is carrying out targeted operations, precision strikes, but it is very difficult to see that when you look at the mounting casualties of women and children," Karakashian says.
With over half of Gaza's population under 18, children have the highest likelihood of being killed by Israeli military attacks.
Karakashian says nearly all children in Gaza are in a state of "shock and horror," barely able to process the psychological trauma they have witnessed.
"One day children have a large family and the next day they are orphans. The practical implications of this will affect them forever. Children grow up in a environment where they realize they have no security in their own homes. Even their bedrooms are not safe anymore."
'Never seen it this bad'
A wounded boy receives treatment at al-Shifa hospital, in
Gaza City, on July 18, 2014.(AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Monica Awad, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, told Ma'an that 72,000 children are in need of immediate psycho-social support, but the five teams available in Gaza are facing severe restrictions on movement amid the threat of being targeted by Israel's military.
Over 904 children have been injured since Israel's military operation began. Shrapnel wounds, severe burns, and the loss of limbs account for a high rate of critical injuries which will require long-term attention and severely impact the victims' future quality of life.
Awad says that children are also suffering severe psycho-social distress and are afraid, angry, crying and constantly clinging to their parents.
Maintaining a secure family life has become an impossible task, with 2,200 family homes destroyed or damaged and 100,000 people displaced and seeking refuge in UNRWA facilities.
Adults are also overwhelmed by trying in vain to protect their loved ones.
Over 1.2 million people are not getting access to water due to damaged pipes and insufficient electricity, Awad says, and children are at the highest risk of water borne diseases.
Children who have been orphaned face a horrific process of dealing with their loss as the shock of war gradually wears off, with most having to rely on humanitarian assistance for future survival.
"It's clear from the insane amount of children killed over the past three days that children are bearing the brunt of Israel's offensive," Karakashian, the DCI official, says.
"To be honest, we have never seen it this bad for children."