FEATURE-Rival Gaza children's camps mix fun with politics

MAGHAZI CAMP, Gaza Strip, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Summer camp for the Palestinian children of the Gaza Strip isn't all swimming and soccer.

At a beachside camp run by the Islamist movement Hamas, youngsters race into the sea carrying the green flags of the group, which took over the territory in a civil war against the Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas two months ago.

At a camp run by the secular Fatah, yellow flags dominate, and boys and girls perform the Debka folk dance together -- a mixed activity frowned on by Islamists. A portrait of the late Fatah leader Yasser Arafat hangs on a wall.

Political and religious ideology are as much a part of the activities at both camps as traditional fun and games.

Divided into groups named after what Fatah considers Palestinian cities, including the Israeli port of Haifa and the holy city of Jerusalem, about 300 children study Fatah history and sing songs in praise of the movement and its "martyrs".

Fatah camper Yazeed al-Nahawi said he and the other children are taught that "Fatah will rise again".


At the Hamas camp, attended by 60 children, organiser Hussein al-Talaa said the message was uncompromising.

"We teach them ... that we reject any partition of (Palestine), whether through agreements or by force...

"The (Israeli) occupation that took the land of Palestine will one day be uprooted at our hands."

Frolicking in a playground at the Hamas camp, children burst into song.

"A Hamas man does not fear death, a Hamas man acts for the sake of religion," they sang.

They laughed as one child recited a prayer he had devised.

"May God turn Israeli planes into balloons and tanks into cartoons and cut off their mobile phones," he chanted, to a chorus of "amen".

Talaa denied Fatah allegations that children at the Hamas camp were receiving armed training.

Israeli advocacy groups say Gaza summer camps are breeding grounds for hatred of Israel.

"We learn how to march properly, like scouts. We also receive first aid instruction and religious lectures," said 16-year-old Hamas camper Ahmed al-Haj Ali.

Israel and its Western allies associate Hamas with suicide bombings and rocket attacks against the Jewish state, and shun it for its refusal to renounce violence and accept Israel.

Ali, however, echoed Hamas leaders' assessment of the new situation in the Gaza Strip.

"Things are safer now," he said.

At the nearby Fatah camp, children sing songs praising Fatah fighters killed in combat with Hamas two months ago:

"Fatah men are lions who boldly face the hurricane. They are like fire that burns for freedom."