Israel's nearly monthlong offensive against Hamas in Gaza, has had a "catastrophic and tragic impact" on children in the territory, a United Nations official has said.
As a 72-hour ceasefire took hold in the Gaza Strip, Pernille Ironside also said that reconstruction would require many hundreds of millions of dollars.
The head of the Unicef office in Gaza told reporters the conflict has killed 392 children and injured 2,502. About 370,000 children have had traumatic experiences and need psychosocial support, she said.
“There isn’t a single family in Gaza which hasn’t been touched by direct loss,” Ms Ironside said. “The impact that has on the ability of children to cope cannot be overstated.”
Ms Ironside said the fallout from the assault had far surpassed the combined impact of two previous conflicts, in 2008/2009 and in 2012.
About 270,000 people have sought shelter at around 90 centers run by the UN Relief and Works Agency, and at least 200,000 others have taken refuge with family members, friends or neighbors.
The damage inflicted on Gaza’s power and water infrastructure has led to acute shortages of clean water for several weeks. What is available is used only for drinking and is not sufficient for basic hygiene, Ms Ironside said, giving rise to scabies and other contagious diseases.
Shelling and bombing have damaged 142 schools, and multiple strikes on Gaza’s sole power plant and other infrastructure have left it beyond repair, she said. The cost of reconstruction will run to “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars”.
But stringent Israeli controls on goods going into Gaza severely constrained past efforts at rebuilding, she added. She urged an end to Israel’s blockade. “The international community cannot accept the rebuilding of Gaza on the same terms as before,” she said.
Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip this morning and began a 72-hour truce with Hamas as a potential first step towards a more enduring end to the war.
Minutes before the mediated by Egypt ceasefire started at 8am (5am Irish time), Hamas launched a salvo of rockets, calling them revenge for Israel’s “massacres”.
Israel’s anti-missile system shot down one rocket over Jerusalem, police said. Another hit a house in a town near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. There were no casualties.
Israeli armour and infantry withdrew from the Gaza Strip ahead of the truce, with a military spokesman saying their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels had been completed.
Troops and tanks would be “redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions”, spokesman Lt-Col Peter Lerner said, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting if attacked.
Several previous truce attempts by Egypt and other regional powers, overseen by the United States and United Nations, failed to calm the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting in two years.
Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,834 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8th, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches.
Israel was expected to send delegates to join talks in Cairo to cement a longer-term deal during the course of the truce.
For now, strategic affairs minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel’s Army Radio: “There are no agreements. As we have already said, quiet will be answered with quiet.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Islamist group had also informed Egypt “of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm,” beginning today.
The US State Department welcomed the truce and urged the parties to “respect it completely”.