Ibrahim Barzak
Associated Press
July 30, 2009 - 12:00am

Thousands of children in the Gaza Strip attempted to set a new world record Thursday by flying colorful homemade kites amid the ruins of Israel's bruising offensive earlier this year — a rare display of joy in the isolated seaside territory ruled by Hamas militants.

The festive event, sponsored by the United Nations, brought some 6,000 campers in orange uniforms and blue caps to a beach in Gaza's war-torn north, where they released their kites into clear skies. Some included designs such as the red, green, black and white Palestinian flag.

"We are happy we came here, full of joy, full of life," said 11-year-old Marwan Mohammad. "We hope that we can be free and can enjoy the same freedom these kites enjoy in the air. All we are looking for is to grow up like normal children."

Marwan said his neighborhood in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, was bombarded in Israel's January offensive against Palestinian rocket launchers. He said many of his friends' relatives were killed in the attacks.

Since the three-week-long war, the militants have mostly stopped firing rockets at Israeli communities across the border. Israel, in turn, has scaled back its military activities in the area significantly. The lull has allowed daily life to resume, though a stifling economic blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt has prevented Gaza from rebuilding.

The 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza are not free to come and go, and Gaza is surrounded on all sides by an Israeli-built fence and a heavily patrolled sea coast.

John Ging, the head of the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees, said the fact that the event was taking place in Gaza held special significance.

"It is an expression of the demand for liberty by these children," he said. "Look at what the children of Gaza can do if they are given a chance."

Hamas members kept away from the kite-flying event, which was seen in Gaza as a show of strength for the U.N. agency that provides education to about half of Gaza's children in addition to food and other aid. The agency and Hamas compete to attract youngsters to their summer camps.

The Guinness Book of World Records said it had received an application from Gaza for "most kites flown simultaneously." Guinness was unable to send a judge to the attempt due to travel restrictions into Gaza.

But the children would be able to break the record even without a judge by verifying the accomplishment in other ways, said Guinness spokeswoman Karolina Thelin.

The current record for simultaneous kite flying stands at 967, set less than a year ago in Melle-Gronegau, Germany, Thelin said.

The U.N. agency says the Gaza children smashed that record and will release its final tally on Saturday. It's unclear if Guinness will accept it.

Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. agency, said every child at the event had their kite registered in accordance with Guinness protocol, which he said event organizers followed with "military precision."

"The symbolism of thousands of children in one of the world's most locked up communities, creating beautiful kites, letting them soar upward, is truly beautiful," he said.


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