Bareknuckle punch helps Gazan girls escape war
We don't have boxing gloves, mitts, training belts, or anything. We only have the rug on which we're training, says boxing coach Osama Ayub. Image Credit: X@RoyaNewsEnglish

Khan Yunis: On a patch of sand in Khan Yunis, boxing coach Osama Ayub helps displaced girls punch out anxieties accumulated over a gruelling nine months of war.

"Up top," he encourages one, who strikes at the green pillow he clasps to his chest in place of a boxing pad.

"The difficulties lie in the lack of resources," he told AFP. 

"We don't have boxing gloves, mitts, training belts, or anything. We only have the rug on which we're training," he said. "I'm training them to punch bareknuckle. My hands hurt, but we must continue to practise."

From Gaza City, Ayub fled to Rafah, near the border with Egypt, after his home and gym were destroyed.

"I continued to coach boxing in Rafah, in camps, schools," he said.

There and in other camps nearby, he found students full of energy and eager to train.

"They had been asking me for a long time to teach them boxing, and thankfully, they are happy now," he said.

His niece, Bilsan Ayub, 17, used to box before the war forced her and the other students to scatter across Gaza.

"Later, we were all regrouped in one camp. Coach Osama gathered us and helped us resume boxing," she said.

To warm up, he has the dozen or so girls stretch and run drills in parallel lines. Then the younger students punch his hands, the older ones the pillow wrapped around his chest.

"It helps us release negative energy, mental fatigue, and all the exhausting aspects of our lives. Boxing unburdens us," Bilsan said.

But the war is never far away. Ayub fears that at any moment an Israeli strike could hit their open-air class.

"There is no safety anywhere," he said.

He hopes in the future to get his gym running again, and to train students for international competitions.

Until then, he shows the girls how to throw straight punches, and gives them something to think about other than the conflict.

Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Hamas militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 38,193 people, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.