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April 11, 11

NEWS / With children caught in crossfire, UNICEF urges immediate halt to Libyan fighting

11 April 2011 – Tens of thousands of children in the Libyan city of Misrata are at risk from intensified fighting between pro- and anti-Government forces and indiscriminate shelling, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warning today, urging an immediate halt to the violence.

The agency said in a news release that it has verified that children as young as nine months have been killed in the city, with at least 20 child deaths and many more injuries, due to shrapnel from mortars and tanks, and bullet wounds.

Almost all of these deaths have occurred in the past three weeks, with the majority of child victims below 10 years of age. In addition to the increasing number of children killed, many others lack food and safe water, and are traumatized from the atrocities they have witnessed, the agency added.

“More and more children in this city are being killed, injured and denied their essential needs due to the fighting,” said Shahida Azfar, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Extraordinary efforts must be taken to protect them. The siege must stop,” she stressed.

Misrata has seen continuous and heavy fighting between forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi and rebels seeking his ouster. Conditions in the city, which has an estimated population of 300,000, have been especially grave, with both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN relief chief Valerie Amos voicing deep concern at the ongoing attacks on civilians and the worsening humanitarian situation.

UNICEF reiterated the Secretary-General’s calls to all parties for an immediate ceasefire. “Until the fighting stops we face the intolerable inevitability of children continuing to die and suffer in this war zone,” said Ms. Azfar.

Late last week, UNICEF and other UN agencies delivered critical relief supplies to the hospital in Misrata, including emergency health kits and surgical materials that will cover the urgent needs of 30,000 people for a month. The agency also provided play kits for children to keep them occupied while they are confined indoors.

UNICEF is also responding to needs in eastern Libya through the delivery of health kits and hygiene kits for the benefit of tens of thousands of affected and displaced people, through partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) present in the city of Benghazi.

“The supplies are a temporary lifeline to those trapped in the fighting,” said Ms. Azfar. “However, if children are to be protected, then regular, safe access for humanitarian agencies – borne through a ceasefire – is urgently required.”

Philippe Lazzarini, Deputy Director of the Coordination and Response Division in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), also reiterated the need for a cessation of hostilities, even if on a temporary basis, to allow civilians who wish to do so to leave and to get much-needed supplies into Misrata.

“The situation for the civilians continues to be extremely worrying,” he told a news conference at UN Headquarters. “There is no day without an account of people being killed, injured or even displaced.”

He also cited the need for additional civilian assets to help the organizations involved in the evacuation of people to be able to go to Misrata, and to support those helping third-country nationals who are currently stranded at the border. There are about 15,000 people who are still stranded at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders, said Mr. Lazzarini.

He added that the revised humanitarian appeal for the Libya crisis – more than $310 million is now sought – is about 40 per cent funded, with an important part of that having been used for evacuations.




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