The number of Palestinian children killed in Gaza over the past three weeks has officially exceeded the number of children who died in conflict zones around the world each year since 2019, according to human rights groups.
Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s ongoing retaliation on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, at least 3,257 children have been reported killed, according to the nonprofit Save the Children. According to the health ministries in Israel and Gaza, respectively, 29 of those children were killed in Israel, 33 in the occupied West Bank and 3,195 in Gaza.
For comparison, the annual death toll for children in conflicts around the world in 2022 was about 3,000. Over the course of three weeks, the death toll of children in Gaza shot past that number ― and the actual figure there is likely higher, with 1,000 additional children reported missing and likely buried under the rubble.
In the besieged Palestinian enclave, children make up about half the population and more than 40% of the total people killed in Gaza. That number is expected to climb as Israel’s military launches its ground operations into the territory, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said is the “second stage” of the country’s attack.
Human rights groups have likened the ongoing assault on Gaza to ethnic cleansing. Many have called for a cease-fire, noting the airstrikes, blockades, evacuation orders and now ground operations are causing mass death and suffering among civilians.
“Three weeks of violence have ripped children from families and torn through their lives at an unimaginable rate. The numbers are harrowing and with violence not only continuing but expanding in Gaza right now, many more children remain at grave risk,” said Jason Lee, Save the Children country director in occupied Palestinian territory.
“One child’s death is one too many, but these are grave violations of epic proportions. A ceasefire is the only way to ensure their safety,” he continued. “The international community must put people before politics – every day spent debating is leaving children killed and injured. Children must be protected at all times, especially when they are seeking safety in schools and hospitals.”
According to the Annual Reports of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, about 2,674 children were killed across 22 countries in 2020; 2,515 children were killed across 24 countries in 2021; and 2,985 children were killed across 24 countries in 2022. The 2019 count was higher: 4,019 children were killed across 20 countries that year.
President Joe Biden came under fire last week after he publicly questioned the credibility of the Palestinian death toll compiled by the Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas but widely accepted as a credible source for casualties and even cited by the U.S. State Department. In response, the health ministry released the names of every single person who has died in Gaza since Oct. 7.
As of Sunday, more than 8,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza. Israel shut off access to food, water, fuel, medicine and, temporarily, communications. Crowded hospitals are under growing threat as Gaza continues to face airstrikes and runs out of fuel, with a large number of children and infants either sheltering or receiving treatment.
Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said that he was not able to enter Gaza after visiting the Rafah crossing, where humanitarian aid is meant to come through. Khan called the suffering of civilians “profound,” and called on Israel to respect international law.
Khan stopped short of accusing Israel of war crimes. Netanyahu said that those who make such an accusation against his soldiers are “people imbued with hypocrisy and lies who do not have a single drop of morality.”