DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — More than 3,600 Palestinian children were killed in the first 25 days of the war between Israel and Hamas, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry. They were hit by airstrikes, smashed by misfired rockets, burned by blasts and crushed by buildings, and among them were newborns and toddlers, avid readers, aspiring journalists and boys who thought they’d be safe in a church.
Nearly half of the crowded strip’s 2.3 million inhabitants are under 18, and children account for 40 percent of those killed so far in the war. An Associated Press analysis of Gaza Health Ministry data released last week showed that as of Oct. 26, 2,001 children ages 12 and under had been killed, including 615 who were three or younger.
“When houses are destroyed, they collapse on the heads of children,” writer Adam al-Madhoun said Wednesday as he comforted his four-year-old daughter Kenzi at the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gaza city of Deir al-Balah. She survived an airstrike that ripped off her right arm, crushed her left leg and fractured her skull.
Israel says its airstrikes target Hamas militant sites and infrastructure, and it accuses the group of using civilians as human shields. It also says more than 500 militant rockets have misfired and landed in Gaza, killing an unknown number of Palestinians. More children have been killed in just over three weeks in Gaza than in all of the world’s conflicts combined in each of the past three years, according to the global charity Save the Children. For example, it said, 2,985 children were killed across two dozen war zones throughout all of last year.
“Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children,” said James Elder, a spokesperson for Unicef, the U.N. children’s agency.
Images and footage of shell-shocked children being pulled from rubble in Gaza or writhing on dirty hospital gurneys have become commonplace and have fueled protests around the world. Scenes from recent airstrikes included a rescuer cradling a limp toddler in a bloodied white tutu, a bespectacled father shrieking as he clutched his dead child tight to his chest, and a dazed young boy covered in blood and dust staggering alone through the ruins.
“It’s a curse to be a parent in Gaza,” said Ahmed Modawikh, a 40-year-old carpenter from Gaza City whose life was shattered by the death of his eight-year-old daughter during five days of fighting in May.
Israeli children have also been killed. During Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 rampage across southern Israel that sparked the war, its gunmen killed more than 1,400 people. Among them were babies and other small children, Israeli officials have said, though they haven’t provided exact figures. About 30 children were also among the roughly 240 hostages Hamas took.
As Israeli warplanes pound Gaza, Palestinian children huddle with large families in apartments or U.N.-run shelters. Although Israel has urged Palestinians to leave northern Gaza for the strip’s south, nowhere in the territory has proven safe from its airstrikes.
“People are running from death only to find death,” said Yasmine Jouda, who lost 68 family members in Oct. 22 airstrikes that razed two four-story buildings in Deir al-Balah, where they had sought refuge from northern Gaza.
The strike’s only survivor was Jouda’s year-old niece Milissa, whose mother had gone into labor during the attack and was found dead beneath the rubble, the heads of her lifeless twin newborns emerging from her birth canal.
“What did this tiny baby do to deserve a life without any family?” Jouda said.
Israel blames Hamas for Gaza’s death toll — now more than 8,800, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry — because the militant group operates from jam-packed residential neighborhoods. Palestinians point to the soaring casualty count as proof that Israeli strikes are indiscriminate and disproportionate.
The war has injured more than 7,000 Palestinian children and left many with lifechanging problems, doctors say.