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Middle East peace critical to region’s children, UN official says

Middle East peace critical to region’s children, UN official says

Radhika Coomaraswamy
Children are bearing the brunt of the armed conflict in the Middle East, a senior United Nations official said today as she concluded a two-week mission to Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, interacted with children across the region, describing them as playful and resilient but plagued by fear, anxiety, anger and feelings of revenge coupled with hopelessness.

“It is imperative that peace come to the Middle East for the sake of the children,” she declared in a statement released in Jerusalem.

According to official sources, approximately 400 children were killed in Lebanon in the recent hostilities. In the occupied Palestinian territory, 124 were killed in 2006 and today, almost 400 are still in detention. In addition, 8 children were killed or injured on the Israeli side.

“Researchers are pointing to the fact that many children in the conflict areas need psycho-social care,” the envoy said, noting that about a third of all children in Northern Israel suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, while many Palestinian children also showed visible signs of being affected by the war.

Ms. Coomaraswamy, who met with Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livini, and other officials, recognized the country’s “very real security concerns.” At the same time, she voiced concern over the barrier erected to separate Palestinian territory from Israel and raised its humanitarian consequences on children’s health, education and right to freedom of movement.

“The present route and procedures associated with the barrier are unconscionable,” she said, urging the Israeli authorities to appoint an independent civilian committee to look into the humanitarian consequences of the barrier.

Ms. Coomaraswamy also called upon the Israeli Government to release the customs and taxes revenues due to the Palestinian Authority for health and education expenditures.

With 398 Palestinian children in detention, the Special Representative said this was only feeding the cycle of violence and urged a different approach to children who engage in minor offences.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) must establish transparent, credible and independent mechanisms to provide for accountability and to ensure effective redress to victims of killings and violence against children, she said, calling also for settler populations to be held accountable for acts of violence and harassment against Palestinian children.

During meetings with senior Palestinian officials, including President Abbas, the Special Representative raised concerns about the use of minors for political and armed violence.

Ms. Coomaraswamy, who had listened to many children speak about being engaged in this violence, welcomed the Palestinian officials’ pledge to revive the code of conduct among Palestinian groups not to involve children in political violence and to work with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to prevent this.

She also noted the importance of ensuring security for children both in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel as well as the need to stop rockets being fired indiscriminately into civilian areas from Gaza.

The envoy welcomed steps by both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government to review school curricula to prevent incitement to violence and to take further steps in this area, including the integration of peace education.

Also during her trip, Ms. Coomaraswamy requested the Israeli Government to hand over to UN demining experts details on the cluster munitions dropped on Lebanon during the 2006 war.

The Special Representative is expected to report her findings to the Security Council, General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.