Judging by the orderly rows of hundreds of young wannabes lined up in crisp military fashion at their graduation ceremony here Thursday, the armed wing of the Islamist movement Hamas will have plenty of eager recruits this year.
More than 17,000 fresh-faced teenagers and young men, ages 15 to 21, mustered at a dozen camps over the past week in the Gaza Strip to climb ropes, practice close-order drills and fire Kalashnikov rifles, all of them pledging to defend the coastal enclave and ready to fight the next war against their Zionist enemies.
They also learned how to perform first aid and throw a grenade. They watched — but did not touch — as instructors showed them the basics of improvised explosive devices.
For the first time, the Hamas military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, hosted the Gaza teens and young men for a week of training in the martial arts at previously off-limits Qassam bases. In the past, the military-style camps have been run by Hamas’s political wing, and during the summer sessions, the camps included lots of sports, religion and playtime on the beach.
These winter camps were different, more serious, more martial. The attendees were older and the trainers were Qassam commanders dressed in khaki camouflage who barked orders like drill sergeants, answered by shouts of “Allahu akbar” by the attendees.