After 10 days of air strikes, Israel has escalated its assault on Gaza by sending in ground troops. Yesterday, Israeli soldiers entered the Palestinian territory to target militant groups, including Hamas. They are seeking to destroy tunnels which militant groups use to restock their artillery, which the Israeli Prime Minister says could not be done "only from the air".
Escalation of assault
Since 8th July, when the Israeli air strikes began, at least 240 Palestinians have been killed. Many of those killed were innocent children. The recent ground offensive has led to 24 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier being killed. There have been no civilian deaths in Israel, despite Palestinian militants firing over 100 rockets into the country.
It is the first time in five years that Israel has launched a major ground attack in Gaza. Civilians were warned to evacuate their homes beforehand via leaflets that were distributed in the streets. They have been advised to seek shelter in three specific 'safe cities': Gaza City, Khan Younis and Rafah. However, according to international news outlets, electricity was cut off to Gaza City just before the ground assault began.
Is everyone safe at SOS Children's Village Rafah?
15km from the safe city of Rafah is an SOS Children's Village, in a place called Deir Sultan. Located in the South of Gaza, the area is densely populated and most of the inhabitants are Palestinian refugees. The town has not been directly affected by the air strikes, and there have not been gunfire or bombs in earshot of the SOS Children's Village. At present, all children and staff are safe.
46 (out of 105) children and youth, 9 SOS mothers, 2 SOS aunties, and 11 other SOS staff remain in the SOS Village in Rafah. The rest of the children and young people are staying with extended family in other regions of the Palestinian Territories, who they were visiting for Ramadan celebrations. Sami Ajjour, SOS Children’s Villages Palestine, says that,
“We are trying to coordinate and see how we can get everyone back to the SOS Village, because we believe it is safer than in any other place.”
Challenges faced by SOS Children in Gaza
Travel, business and banking in Gaza have been disrupted since the air strikes began. This has led to the provisioning of food, electricity and supplies to be a problem for the SOS Children's Village. Mr Ajjour explains that as well as the practical challenges of securing enough supplies, they are also having to find ways to protect the children's psychological well-being:
“Some children need psychological support. The challenge is that our psychologists cannot come from their homes to the Village, because of the situation. We are however trying to organise some indoor activities for the children, so as to make them more relaxed."
The lives and well-being of children must be protected
SOS Children has no political or religious affiliation. Our primary concern is always with vulnerable children; they are at the centre of everything we do. We have worked in the Palestinan Territories since 1968, and in Rafah since 1999. We have seen many children grow up at our Children's Village in Rafah, and are invested in the well-being of all children in the region.
Richard Pichler, CEO of SOS Children's Village International has a message for all parties of the conflict, to “respect their obligation under international human rights law to protect the lives and well-being of children. We trust they will do everything they can to ensure that no harm befalls the SOS Children’s Villages programme and its children.”
Thank you for your support and concern for SOS Children's Village Rafah. If you would like to help a child in the region and secure their well-being, have you considered sponsoring a child in the Palestinian Territories or Israel?