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AFP
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Extreme sportPalestinian boys practising parkour skills, in the Gaza Strip.Photo: AFP
Extreme sportPalestinian boys practising parkour skills, in the Gaza Strip.Photo: AFP

Mohammed Jakhbir leans back, braces himself, and then leaps off the roof of a Khan Yunis hospital building, flipping backwards before landing on the next roof over.

He whoops with delight at performing the dangerous feat, his favourite of the moves he practises with his team -- the first parkour group in the Gaza Strip.

Parkour, also known as free running, is an extreme sport that involves getting around or over urban obstacles as quickly as possible, using a combination of running, jumping, and gymnastic moves including rolls and vaults.

Practitioners leap from roof-to-roof, run up the side of buildings until they flip backwards, vault over park benches, or cartwheel along walls.

Jihad Abu Sultan, 24, joined the four-member team four years ago after seeing some of Jakhbir's clips on YouTube.

He had a background in both kickboxing and kung-fu, but saw something different in parkour.

"It uses physical strength more than any other sport... I was so impressed by it, especially the jumping involved," he says.

"Parkour teaches us to overcome obstacles," he says. "It makes me feel free, it makes me feel my body is strong, that I can overcome anything."

But practising parkour in Gaza hasn't been easy. At times they've had to shift practice locations because the areas have been targeted by Israeli air strikes. And both Abu Sultan and Jakhbir have battled disapproval from their families.

Jakhbir and other Gaza Parkour members were able to do just that earlier this year, when an Italian group called Unione Italiana Sport Per Tutti invited them to Italy.

"They were able to make our biggest dream come true, which was to get past the biggest obstacle of all -- the Israeli checkpoint -- and travel abroad," Jakhbir says.

The trip took them to Rome and four other Italian cities, where they met with other enthusiasts, showing off their skills and learning a few new ones.

Jakhbir and Abu Sultan say they'd like to continue parkour professionally, and are hoping to eventually win either local or international support that would allow them to commit to the sport full-time.AFP


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