UN agencies express concern over increasing Gaza conflict
United Nations: Leading UN agencies on Friday expressed concern over the escalating conflict in Gaza, calling on all parties to ensure that children and schools are not targeted and humanitarian assistance, particularly to pregnant women, is allowed into the troubled areas.
The United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF) said the attack on Beit Hanoun elementary school is "proof that much more needs to be done to protect innocent children.
"Using or attacking school premises where children have taken refuge from the violence is unacceptable under any circumstances. UNICEF calls on parties to the conflict to respect the sanctity of children and schools," the UN agency said in a statement.
UNICEF reiterated UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon`s call for an immediate end to the violence as the Palestinian death toll rose to 832 and at least 192 children having been killed in Gaza in 18 days.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, also expressed concern over the impact of the ongoing Gaza conflict on women`s health and their access to safe births.
With the possibility of a further escalation in violence, UNFPA joined the Security Council in calling on all sides to exercise maximum restraint and ensure protection of civilians.
It also reiterated UN chief`s call for an immediate ceasefire and for the protection of the vulnerable population, particularly women and children.
"It is critical that humanitarian assistance, including medical supplies and equipment, be given safe passage into Gaza to enable us to provide the much-needed assistance to pregnant women," said UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin.
"Pregnant women in particular must be allowed unhindered access to maternal health services to ensure their safety throughout their pregnancy and childbirth," Osotimehin added.
UNFPA said destruction of hospitals and health facilities are particularly disturbing as about 45,000 pregnant women in Gaza are currently in need of maternity care.
About 5,000 of these are among the 140,000 internally displaced people in temporary shelters throughout Gaza.
Due to mounting stress and anxiety, many of these women are likely to face obstetric complications, while access to maternal health services is highly limited by the conflict.
Several emergency maternity centres, established with UNFPA support in previous years, have been affected and are no longer operational, leaving many women without access to safe delivery services.
UNFPA said it is working with other UN agencies and is supporting lifesaving reproductive and maternal health services by delivering medicine and surgical instruments to Gaza`s hospitals, as well as hygiene products and first aid supplies to families in Gaza.
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