Number of children missing, separated from families in Gaza may be as high as 21,000: Report

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(GAZA) — The number of children who are missing or separated from their families in Gaza due to the Israel-Hamas war may be as many as 21,000, according to humanitarian aid group Save the Children.

This organization — which has been providing support for Palestinian children in the region since 1953 — reports that likely 17,000 children are unaccompanied and separated, and another 4,000 children are likely buried under the rubble based on data from the United Nations and the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza.

“Children who are missing but living are vulnerable, face grave protection risks and must be found. They must be protected and reunited with their families,” said Save the Children’s Regional Director for the Middle East Jeremy Stoner. “For the children who have been killed, their deaths must be formally marked, their families informed, burial rites respected, and accountability sought.”

Nearly 15,000 other children in Gaza have been killed since the war began on Oct. 7, 2023, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Gaza has become a graveyard for children, with thousands of others missing, their fates unknown,” Stoner said. “There must be an independent investigation and those responsible must be held accountable. We desperately need a cease-fire to find and support the missing children who have survived, and to prevent more families from being destroyed.”

The Israel-Hamas war is ongoing, with Israeli forces continuing to launch incursions in Rafah and Gaza City ahead of a possible large-scale invasion as negotiations over hostages stall.

The Gaza Ministry of Health says the death toll in Gaza since Oct. 7 now stands at 37,626 people killed, with 86,098 people injured.

Save the Children’s child protection teams say that the Israeli siege on Rafah has separated more children and “further increased the strain on families and communities caring for them.”

The organization also claims an unknown number of children have been “detained and transferred out of Gaza,” and their whereabouts unknown.

Israeli military action has also continued in the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory. This has led to further death and displacement, as Israeli officials hint at plans for civil control and further settlement in the occupied territory.

Save the Children claims that 250 Palestinian children from the West Bank are missing in the Israeli military detention system, with families unable to confirm their whereabouts and well-being due to restrictions on visitation since the war in Gaza.

“Families are tortured by the uncertainty of the whereabouts of their loved ones,” Stoner said. “No parent should have to dig through rubble or mass graves to try and find their child’s body. No child should be alone, unprotected in a war zone. No child should be detained or held hostage.”

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