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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
'Little hope' for Rafah's children
Rob Winder
BBC News Online

Injured child carried away from scene of attack in Rafah
Children were killed and injured during recent demonstrations.

The death of Palestinian children during the recent Israeli incursion into the Rafah refugee camp has highlighted the problems young people face when caught up in conflict.

Eight Palestinians, including children, were killed after a demonstration came under fire from the Israeli military on Wednesday.

As well as the physical danger of living in a war zone children often face psychological problems after witnessing violence.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common. One survey found almost of a third of Gazan children suffering from a severe form of the condition.

Symptoms include nightmares, anxiety, bedwetting, and lack of concentration.

'Terrified'

Khalil Shagfa described the effect of Israeli fire on the street outside his Rafah home.

"They kept firing sound bombs, the kids were screaming. They woke up calling 'Daddy, Daddy, I want to hide' - They were terrified - its been like this for three days."

Salah Shafi of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) believes that incursions like the one in Rafah can only increase the cases of PTSD among children.

"The situation is compounded by a lack of doctors, nurses and psychologists to help cope with the situation - many are dealing with the physically wounded," Mr Shafi told BBC News Online.

Children's education also suffers during incursions as it is too dangerous for schools to open.

As Adwan Adwan, an English teacher in Rafah, explains.

"The schools have been shut for four weeks and as this is an exam period, much of the years work has been lost," he told BBC News Online.

Criticism

Mr Adwan estimated that over 50% of people on Wednesday's demonstration were children and there have been criticisms of Palestinian groups and organisations that not enough is done to prevent children going on potentially dangerous demonstrations.

The demonstration on Wednesday followed a call from mosques for people to join the march. Israel has alleged that armed men were among the demonstrators, though Palestinians have denied this adamantly.

The Palestinian Authority refutes the criticism that children are not being kept out of danger - saying it tries to stop children attending demonstrations through campaigns at schools.
GCMHP Gaza Children's Survey
83.2% witnessed shooting
66.9% seen injuries or deaths
8.7% thought there would be peace

Parents also warn children of the dangers but Khalil Shagfa says.

"They want to go out, but its too dangerous. Its a daily struggle. They just want to get some fresh air, what can I do?"

Adwan Adwan stresses that children, too, have a political consciousness.

"They also feel angry - about the incursion and the Israeli occupation in general. They want to demonstrate to help their friends caught up in the fighting."

Helpless

The future for children in Rafah looks bleak believes Mr Shafi.

He argues that children see the humiliation inflicted on their parents and start to believe that violence is the only solution to problems.

They feel helpless and start to identify with suicide bombers, who seem to be the only ones fighting back.

According to the GCHMP study, 24% of children said they had considered becoming suicide bombers.


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