Israel's large-scale ground and air campaign on the Gaza Strip has prevented around half a million schoolchildren in the coastal enclave from attending school, officials said on Sunday.
Khawla Shakhshir, minister of education in the unity government, said in a press statement that half a million schoolchildren were unable to go to school in the Gaza Strip due to the ongoing war, adding "as soon as the Israel's war ends, school will start."
The United Nations for Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, which provides health and education services to more than a million refugees, carried out on Sunday symbolic activities reflecting what would normally be the opening of the new school year at several of its schools.
The bell rang early Sunday morning as hundreds of school-aged Palestinian children stood in lines as if for morning assembly. Children greeted the national flag and stood a moment of silence to respect the hundreds of other children who have recently been killed by Israeli airstrikes as the Palestinian national anthem played in the background.
But the children weren't carrying book-filled bags as usual during this time of year because most classrooms in the Gaza Strip have been transformed into shelters. Some 200,000 displaced Palestinians, who were forced to flee their homes after Israeli airstrikes and barrages targeted their neighborhoods, are taking refuge at schools across the strip.
Palestinian officials have postponed classes for the enclave's 240 schools until a permanent ceasefire agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians. Many parents say they will not send their children to schools since it was still too dangerous.
In the West Bank, however, 700,000 schoolchildren started school on Sunday normally.
"The first class in the West Bank was devoted for talking about what happened in the Gaza Strip," said Shakhshir, who is based in Ramallah, adding "at the end of the first-day school, children organized processions and marches in solidarity with their Gazan classmates."
But in Gaza, schools have not been spared from the violence. During the ongoing Israeli military campaign, three UNRWA schools in northern and southern Gaza Strip were bombed, killing displaced women and children inside. Israel claimed that militants hid in the schools and that rockets were hidden in one of UNRWA's schools. UNRWA officials strongly denied those claims.
Even if the fighting ends soon, it is likely to be difficult for UNRWA to evacuate the tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians inside the schools.
The Gaza-based health ministry said in a latest figure that Israeli bombs and shells have killed 2,110 Palestinians and wounded 10,660 others.