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Child casualties mount in besieged Gaza

Samar Hamdan ran weeping through the street, trying to touch the body of her slain 11-year-old brother during a funeral procession in this northern Gaza town. Read more...

world Updated: Jan 02, 2009 09:25 IST

Samar Hamdan ran weeping through the street, trying to touch the body of her slain 11-year-old brother during a funeral procession in this northern Gaza town.

Just a day before, 15-year-old Hamdan's two sisters were also buried, victims of the same strike from an Israeli missile.

As Israel steps up its attacks on the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated spots on earth, children are paying the price.

"In this crowded strip, everything is beside everything else," said Karen Abu Zayd, a top UN official in Gaza.

Israel maintains it is only targeting Hamas militants and the rockets they send streaking into southern Israel. More than 400 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes and many of them have been members of the security forces.

But at least 37 children and 17 women have died so far, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry numbers that UN officials also believe are correct.

The broad range of Israel's targets police compounds, fire stations, homes of militants, Hamas-run mosques and university buildings - means most shelling is occurring in residential areas.

Israel says that militants fire rockets from residential areas and schools - aware that the response may cause civilian casualties.

"Hamas uses civilians as human shields," said Israeli military spokeswoman Maj Avital Leibovich. "The targets we picked are military." But with some 1.4 million Gazans crammed into a sliver of land 40 kilometers long and just 5 to 12 kilometers wide, military targets and civilians tend to exist side by side.