As the hot weather arrives in Gaza, children head to the town of Rafah for summer camp -- not to play sports but to join war games organized by the Islamic Jihad terrorist group, the AFP news agency reports.
Youngsters wearing military fatigues and the movement's black insignia capture a fellow camper posing as an Israeli soldier and drag him away -- all
part of being trained to "resist" the enemy.
Around 100 children under the age of 16 learn from members of Islamic Jihad's armed wing Al-Quds Brigades how to strip down an AK-47 assault rifle,
crawl through tunnels and run across burning tires amid the sound of explosions on their assault course.
"When I'm older I want to fight in Al-Quds Brigades and capture Israeli troops," said 12-year-old Ezz, who was this time playing the role of the
unfortunate enemy soldier taken from his position atop a scorching sand dune.
Ezz is a pupil at a school in the Gaza Strip run by the UN's Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.
Fellow camper Osama, holding a rifle, explains: "We learn to fight so that we're ready for our resistance against the Zionist enemy (Israel) who occupies
our land and kills us."
The head military trainer at the camp, Abu Khaled, insists it is like any other "youth camp, (but) includes combat training."
The Al-Quds Brigades instructor, wearing a balaclava, says he sees the "soldiers of the future" in the children he is training, adding that his
eldest son is taking part in the two-week camp.
"We want to instil the notion of kidnapping (Israeli) soldiers so that we never forget our prisoners," he says, referring to previous prisoner exchange
deals between Israel and terrorist groups.
In one of the most significant such swaps, Gaza rulers Hamas released captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for over a thousand
imprisoned terrorists in an October 2011 deal.
Abu Mohammed, another instructor, insists "there's no need for children to actually fight. But we train them to, so they can face danger and the fear of
The Hamas movement ruling Gaza, meanwhile, has opened its own summer camps to some 100,000 students, boys and girls, aged 10 to 21.
The Hamas camps also include rudimentary combat training. "They're focused on creativity and fun as well as religious, moral and
national education on the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the prisoners issue," says Mussa al-Samak, one organizer.
A Gaza psychologist, requesting anonymity, criticized the participation of children in military exercises. "This presents a danger to their lives and contravenes international laws for the protection of children," he said.
"We always warn against the use of children in conflicts, whether they're just training or actually being used as part of the resistance against the
Israeli occupation," he stressed.
Terrorists' use of children in the fight against Israel began decades ago. The average attacker in Judea and Samaria, where a spate of rock and firebomb attacks targeting Israeli motorists has caused death and serious injury, is just 12 to 14 years old. Many of the young terrorists target Israeli teenagers or young children.