Masked Gunmen Destroy Another Summer Camp for Children in Gaza

By Dallas Steele
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Palestinian children under the age of 15, totaling roughly 700,000, comprise half of the total population in the Gaza Strip. (Photo Courtesy of Associated Press)
Palestinian children under the age of fifteen comprise half of the total population in the Gaza Strip. (Photo Courtesy of AP)

For the second time this summer, masked gunmen have set fire to a United Nations-run summer camp in the Gaza Strip. The site of the second vandalized camp is in the vicinity of the camp which was vandalized this past May.

The UN estimates that roughly twenty-five armed men attacked the camp between late Sunday night and early Monday morning, when children were not present. Security guards at the camp were tied up before the armed militants set about slashing plastic sheds and toys, vandalizing a swimming pool, and burning down chairs, tables, easels, and other equipment. Fortunately, no one was harmed during the attack.

As with the incident in May, no group has come forth to claim the attack. Following the attack from last month, however, it was later discovered that a previously unheard of Islamic extremist group was behind the razing of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) summer camp.  The unknown Islamist group claimed the summer camp was a corrupting influence on local children because it introduced activities considered at odds with conservative Islamic customs. It is also believed that the group objected to boys and girls going to camp together.

John Ging, the director of the agency’s operations, responded to the second attack saying: “The overwhelming success of UNRWA’s Summer Games has once again obviously frustrated those that are intolerant of children’s happiness. This is another example of the growing levels of extremism in Gaza and further evidence of the urgency to change the circumstances on the ground.”

Ging again pledged to continue to run the 1,200 UN-sponsored summer camps, which have allowed about 250,000 Gazan children to take part in such activities as sports, swimming, arts, and theater.

Hamas, Gaza’s militant Islamist ruler, condemned last month’s attack and has said it will apprehend and jail whoever carried out the current attack. BBC Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison, however, has reported that there are those that think Hamas may be connected to the most recent attack.  They argue that an attack involving around twenty-five masked men could not be conducted without at least the implicit support of Hamas.  Hamas also runs summer camps which compete with the UN sponsored camps for the enrollment of Gazan youth. The Hamas summer camp offers such activities as horseback riding, swimming, as well as classes on Islam, but also teach children military-style marching and anti-Israel doctrine.

There are roughly 700,000 children under the age of 15 living in Gaza.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Gaza gunmen ‘set fire to UN summer camp for children’ – 28 June 2010

CNN – Militants attack UN-sponsored summer camp in Gaza – 28 June 2010

The New York Times – Vandals Set Fire to UN Children’s Camp in Gaza – 28 June 2010