Save the Children News Alert Graphic

Majority of Gaza’s Children Now Trapped in Land Area Less than a Fifth of Enclave’s Total Land Mass as Israeli Military Expands into Rafah

GAZA (Feb. 8, 2024)—The majority of Gaza’s displaced population—more than 1.3 million people, including more than 610,000 children—are trapped in an area less than a fifth of the enclave’s total land mass with nowhere left to flee as Israeli attacks on Rafah intensify, Save the Children said. 

Earlier this week the UN warned that indiscriminate bombing of densely populated areas may amount to war crimes.  

Over the four months since Israel’s military escalation in Gaza began following the October 7 attacks on Israel, more than half of Gaza’s population has fled to Rafah attempting to seek refuge from operations in northern and central Gaza after following Israeli-issued “evacuation orders” directing them there.

These families are now crammed into an area of just 62 square kilometers (24 square miles)—less than a fifth of the total land mass of Gaza of 365 square kilometers (141 square miles), already one of the most densely populated areas in the world—with the majority sleeping in makeshift tents or in the open air due to the scarcity of shelter. Families are becoming increasingly desperate in their search for food, water, and medical care, Save the Children said.

Expanded Israeli military operations in Rafah—the primary entry point of aid into Gaza—now also risks further derailing provision of aid across the besieged enclave as it will be impossible for aid workers to deliver aid safely and effectively, Save the Children said.

Since February 1, at least one aid convoy transporting food into Gaza has been hit by Israeli naval gunfire and several aid workers have been killed while on duty, according to the UN. This is despite aid agencies providing locations to Israeli authorities through a designated notification system, Save the Children said. 

The escalated risks to Rafah and aid deliveries come just weeks after recent decisions from some donor governments to suspend funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the largest aid provider in Gaza.

Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director for the occupied Palestinian territory, said: 

“It is hard to imagine things getting any worse than they have been for people in Gaza over the past four months, but should Israeli forces expand into Rafah, what happens next will be beyond our worst nightmares.

“With Israeli authorities telling people in Gaza that Rafah is a safe place to flee, 80% of the population—half of whom are children—is now crammed into this area, many with no walls or roofs to shelter and protect them. 

“Our staff and other aid agencies cannot distribute aid under relentless bombardment and fire, and we have seen efforts to ensure humanitarian operations and staff are protected continuously fail.

“Much of the international community has failed tests of their commitment to protect children so far. This is the gravest test of all. Will they uphold international law and children’s right to life? Or will they stand by while the lives, bodies, and futures of more children are decimated?” 

Save the Children is calling for an immediate, definitive ceasefire to save and protect the lives of children in Gaza.  

Save the Children is calling on all States to immediately halt the transfer of weapons, parts, and ammunition to Israel and Palestinian armed groups while there is risk they are used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.

Save the Children is also calling for all donor governments and the rest of the international community to resume and scale up funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as quickly as possible.  

Save the Children has been providing essential services and support to Palestinian children impacted by the ongoing conflict since 1953. Save the Children’s team in the occupied Palestinian territory has been working around the clock, prepositioning vital supplies to support people in need, and working to find ways to get assistance into Gaza.    

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