More than 3,000 Palestinian teenagers on Thursday graduated from the ruling Hamas militant group's first high school military training program in the Gaza Strip, displaying mock weapons, crawling commando-style on the ground and taking up fighting positions for thousands of cheering supporters.
Hamas officials said the Futuwwa, or "Youth," program is aimed at fostering a new generation of leaders in the struggle against Israel.
"We teach the youth to honor the national flag and anthem, to strengthen their affinity with the homeland and Jerusalem, the spirit of resistance and the principles of steadfastness," said Abu Hozifa, a 29-year-old national security officer who teaches in the program. "We also prepare them in terms of faith and physical fitness to serve as resistance fighters if they want to be in the future."
The program is a weekly elective that is offered in all Gaza high schools. Officials said 3,600 participated in the first session, which began in September.