The military wing of Hamas opened a Gaza summer camp on Saturday, providing combat training for 25,000 Palestinians as young as 15.
Hamas, an Islamic extremist group that is the de facto power in Gaza, is currently engaged in indirect contacts with Israel to try to reach a long-term truce, but a year after last summer’s devastating 50-day war the terrorist movement has kept up the fighting talk.
“The goal of these military training camps is to train the vanguard for liberation — spiritually, intellectually and physically — to be ready and able to play its role in liberation,” said a statement by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing.
It said that participants, aged 15-60, would spend two weeks being “trained in military techniques and in firing live ammunition” as well as “first aid and rescue techniques.”
As with all the brigades’ activities the camps will be conducted out of public and media sight.
Rescue squads dealt with thousands of local victims during the war of July-August 2014, the third in Gaza in six years.
Hamas has long run summer camps devoted to sport and study of the Koran in Gaza but over the winter the al-Qassam brigades launched a new kind of camp, giving military training to 15 to 20-year-olds.
Human rights activists condemned it as a forced militarization of Gazan society and a violation of children’s rights.
Brushing off the criticism, the brigades are repeating the exercise with the summer camp, while raising the upper age limit to 60.
Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from Gaza in 2005. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, ousting the Fatah forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a violent takeover.
Avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, Hamas has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since it took charge, most recently a 50-day war last summer. It has bragged since that it is again digging tunnels to the Israeli border and developing and manufacturing new rockets for use against Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.