On June 13, the military wing of Hamas – al-Qassam Brigades – published a statement saying it had opened registration for basic military training at a yearly summer camp held by the militant group.
Under the moniker ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ – a reference to the recent conflict against Israel – al-Qassam Brigades invited preparatory to university-aged males to register at various locations in the Gaza strip for an opportunity to learn basic combat skills under the guidance of al-Qassam Brigades military advisors.
The group has openly recruited children to its summer camp in previous years and published documentation of their military training via its Telegram channel.
The children, often referred to as ‘Qassam cubs,’ are trained in the use of firearms, educated in Hamas doctrine and learn guerilla warfare.
Promotional material published by the group depicts a mock capture of IDF soldiers and an armed trainee emerging from an underground opening equipped with a GoPro.
In 2014, senior Hamas figure Fathi Hammad urged graduates to continue their training and jihad.
“Study, conduct training, become experts and be inventive, with the help of Allah. The battle will be your battle. The Jihad will be your Jihad,” Hammad stated.
The use of minors by militant groups in the Gaza Strip has been tracked and documented by FDD’s Long War Journal. In 2018, Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military wing, Saraya al-Quds, published a statement mourning the loss of one of its militants, a 16-year-old named Ahmed al-Sha’ar, after he was killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the March of Return.
Another minor killed during the March of Return with links to militant groups was Saeed al-Khayer, who was buried with the al-Qassam Brigades flag and remembered as a ‘Qassam cub’ by friends in social media posts.
The training of children and teenagers isn’t exclusive to Hamas’ military wing. Other militant groups including Palestinian Islamic Jihad hold camps for potential recruits during the summer months. Most notably, Hezbollah established a youth movement over three decades ago called the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts who train children how to use weapons and indoctrinate them into the group’s ideology.
While it is rare for militant groups in Gaza to admit they have recruited minors, evidence occasionally surfaces strongly suggesting they do. A recently published ‘martyr’ picture of an al-Qassam militant who died from drowning suggests he was under the age of 18 when the photograph was taken. Until Gaza’s militant groups believe it’s not in their interest to recruit minors into their military wing, it’s highly likely this form of child exploitation will continue indefinitely.
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