“She will call me Daddy and Mummy,” insisted 11-year-old Amir Hamad, cradling his infant sister in his arms after the Gaza war left him and his four siblings orphans.
Fifty days of bloody fighting in and around the wartorn Gaza Strip has cost the lives of nearly 500 children, but it has also turned hundreds more into orphans, who face a future deprived of their parents’ love.
“I would rather be dead than without my mother and father,” Amir told AFP, saying he would never forget that fateful moment on the second day of the war when they were killed.
“My parents were drinking their coffee in the evening after breaking the (Ramadan) fast, when a bomb fell onto our home,” he said, recalling how an Israeli air strike hit their home in northern Gaza.
“I saw them lying on the ground and knew immediately they were dead,” said Amir, the oldest of the five children. His sister Lamis, just four-months-old, is the youngest.
Amir’s six-year-old brother Nur had laid motionless, his face covered in blood.
“Two paramedics took him,” Amir recalled, watching Nur who is now sitting safely next to him.
“I’ll look after my brothers and sisters. But I’m scared, because my parents are no longer here to help me.”
There are still adult figures in the family — the grandmother and grandfather.
The grandmother Afaf Hamad, 60, was displaced by fighting that made almost half a million people homeless, but said she would do whatever to look after the five children.
But she has no idea how she will fund their education.
“I’ll never leave them, I’ll raise them as I did my daughter,” she said.
“But how will we pay for school?”
– ‘Mum, dad are in heaven’ –
Bisan Daher, 8, lost both parents and several brothers in an Israeli air raid in northern Gaza.
“We were all at home. We don’t have anything to hide, no rockets. But they hit our house while we were all inside.
“Now mum and dad and my brothers are in heaven,” she said, still covered in bandages from wounds sustained in the strike.
“I regained consciousness after the strike, with sand and pebbles in my eyes. I really want to see mum and dad again,” Bisan said.
She was trapped for six hours under the rubble before paramedics found her and rushed her to hospital.
Bisan’s 28-year-old sister Noha, who is married, has taken her in.
“She’s still haunted and traumatised by the incident. She doesn’t sleep, she cries a lot and keeps calling for mum and dad,” Noha told AFP.
“We’ve been told she has to see a psychiatrist, but while the war was going on it was impossible to move freely for fear of aerial and artillery bombardments.”
Figures released by the UN show that at least 373,000 Gazan children will need psychological support in the wake of the seven-week war.
Children also numbered high on the casualties list, making up nearly a quarter of the dead — of the 2,143 victims, 494 of them were children.
On the Israeli side, one child was among 70 people killed, 64 of them soldiers.
– Sole orphange overwhelmed –
There is only one orphanage in the whole of the Gaza Strip and the war has left it overwhelmed.
Al-Amal orphanage has already taken in between 250 to 300 children made parentless by the war, its director Ayad al-Masri told AFP.
That number has shot up from around 120 before the conflict began.
During the fighting, one of the children living at the orphanage, 10-year-old Ali, was killed by a shelling at a UN school where he was sheltering with extended family.
The orphanage only has 31 rooms, but Masri promises it will grow.
“We will build another building to cater for all the orphans coming in,” he said.
How quickly that construction can be completed will depend on how much building material Israel lets into Gaza, after a years-long ban on such supplies as a result of its eight-year blockade.
Under a truce deal reached on Tuesday, Israel has pledged to allow in construction materials but will subject any deliveries to thorough searches, on grounds they could be used to make weapons, or build fortifications and attack tunnels.