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UNICEF warning youths of war risks

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A Lebanese boy flashes a victory sign from a car waiting to cross the Litani River between Sidon and Tyre in south Lebanon Tuesday.

A Lebanese boy flashes a victory sign from a car waiting to cross the Litani River between Sidon and Tyre in south Lebanon Tuesday.

Ben Curtis, Associated Press

GENEVA — Children are particularly at risk in the aftermath of war, and the U.N. Children's Fund is mounting a campaign to warn young Lebanese to stay away from shiny, strange objects in the rubble.

The death of a child in south Lebanon on Monday underscored the danger of unexploded ordnance — the shells, bombs and land mines that failed to go off during the combat but which can be triggered by a slight movement.

Children have been hard hit in Lebanon, Israel and the Gaza Strip in the two-front war, UNICEF spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said Tuesday.

"In July alone, 38 kids have been killed" in Gaza, Bociurkiw said. "This has almost been the highest number since the beginning of the intifada," or Palestinian uprising, in 2000. He said the toll included all children killed, including those by unexploded ordnance, but he did not have a breakdown.

The agency has not been able to collect accurate statistics for Lebanon but said it was so concerned about the danger that it was mounting an advertising campaign to warn parents to keep their children away from shiny, strange objects.

"We are starting to do TV and radio spots as of today, handing out leaflets to people who are crossing the border from Syria into Lebanon going back into areas that have been bombed and shelled, where there are pieces of debris that are still of great danger to people," UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte said.

A similar campaign is under way in Gaza.

Because Israel is a developed country, UNICEF does not have a program there. But UNICEF does have a national committee that coordinates with the Israeli government to protect children's interests.

Bociurkiw, who has spent the past three years in Gaza, said the UNICEF office there stepped up warnings in recent months as the death toll among children has risen since April amid the growing Hamas-Israeli tensions.

"We feel that kids have been living in an extraordinary environment of fear and violence and insecurity," he told reporters. "Kids are typically exposed to violence, for example shelling, gunfire and UXO (unexploded ordnance) when they go to and from school," Bociurkiw said. "Many times schools are also hit during the school year."

He said the agency was concerned about psychological trauma and is counseling the children, their parents and other caregivers.

"If you can imagine the daily barrage of gunfire and so on, it takes a big toll on children," Bociurkiw said. "It's made such a big difference in the life of kids. Many of them are afraid to go to leave their homes, to go to the beach, to playgrounds. Many of them, the youngest ones, are afraid to leave the arms of their mothers."

Bociurkiw said that while the needs in Lebanon are great, the agency fears that the attention given to Israel's northern neighbor might take attention away from Gaza.

"We feel that it's incumbent upon us to highlight the humanitarian situation in Gaza, especially for kids," he said. "We feel that it's really becoming a humanitarian catastrophe."