July 18 2014

Gaza update: Children safest at SOS village

As a precaution, children at the SOS village near Rafah are not being allowed to play outside. As many as 80 children have been killed by air strikes and bombs in other areas of Gaza since 8 July. Photo: Robert Fleischhanderl

18 July 2014 - On Thursday evening, Israeli forces escalated their assault on militants in the Palestinian Territories, sending ground forces into the Gaza strip and warning civilians to evacuate their homes and seek shelter in safe cities.
The children, mothers and co-workers at the SOS Children’s Village in Rafah are reported safe, but they are fearful and tired. Getting enough food, supplies and electricity to the village has become difficult.
It was the first time in five years that Israel launched a major ground attack on Gaza, but it did not come as a total surprise. In recent weeks, Israel called up a total of 66,000 reserve soldiers and troops were massing at the border to Gaza. Leaflets distributed in the streets of the Palestinian Territories warned civilians to evacuate and seek shelter in three specific cities: Gaza City, Khan Younis and Rafah. The SOS Children’s Village is close to Rafah.

At least 240 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli air strikes since 8 July. As many as 80 of them were children. The BBC reports today that at least 24 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier have been killed since the ground offensive began on Thursday.

Current situation for SOS Children’s Villages Palestine

SOS Children's Villages Palestine is situated about 15 km from the town of Rafah in a village called Deir Sultan, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. The area is densely populated and the town of Rafah is estimated to have around 71,000 inhabitants. Most of the inhabitants are Palestinian refugees.
As of 18 July, roughly half of the 105 children from the SOS village near Rafah were in the village. All are reported safe. However, other children and young people from the village have been staying with extended family in other regions of the Palestinian Territories for Ramadan celebrations.
“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,” said Sami Ajjour, Family Based Care Coordinator, SOS Children’s Villages Palestine.
So far there has not been gunfire or bombs within earshot of the SOS village. However provisioning has become a problem, because normal travel, business and banking have stopped.
“Actually, we have a lot of challenges now. We need some non-food items. We have a shortage of electricity; we need a generator inside the village. Also, 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,” Mr Ajjour said.

More than a decade of difficulties
The people in the Gaza Strip faced, and continue to face, many difficulties due to the political, social and economic situation. SOS Children’s Villages has contributed to the improvement of living conditions through our programmes in Rafah. We have been supporting families so that children can grow up in loving homes with their parents and siblings. We also run a kindergarten and a primary school in the area.
Quote from SOS Children’s Villages CEO Richard Pichler:
[Previously released on 9 July 2014]
“The eruption of violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories again has had a direct impact on the SOS Children’s Village located near Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. A number of air strikes appear to have targeted locations not far from the village, which has no political affiliation. The SOS children are currently unable to leave the village because of safety concerns. We remind all parties to 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.”