Hamas's singing policemen boost morale in Gaza

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GAZA, Nov 14 (Reuters) Wearing blue camouflage fatigues and crooning about Islamic holy war, the five members of Hamas's Protectors of the Homeland police band are trying to boost morale in Gaza with an arsenal of anti-Israel numbers.

Standing bolt upright and staring straight ahead in their Hamas uniforms, the bearded men -- in their 20s and 30s -- are not quite Gaza's answer to international boy bands like Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync.

''Our duties are to boost the spirits with entertainment and encourage the forces,'' Hussam Abu Abdu told Reuters after a band rehearsal at the Hamas-run Gaza Strip's police headquarters.

Hamas's top police commander, Jamal al-Jarah, who is wanted by Israel, formed the band after the Islamist group seized control of Gaza in June following violent clashes with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction.

Israel and its allies shun Hamas for its refusal to renounce violence. The result has been the near total closure of Gaza's borders since Hamas seized the enclave.

The policemen shun the bump-and-grind dancing and sugary love songs favoured by boy bands around the world. They sing about heroic fighters, Islamic values and love of the homeland, all recorded over backing tracks played from a laptop computer.

''O Jerusalem, rest assured we are the sacrifice,'' goes one song. ''I will not retreat from my Jihad, I will not back down.'' ''EDUCATE AND ENTERTAIN'' Abdu says the band hopes to bolster morale in the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people, which is facing economic collapse due to the blockade.

The men spend most days rehearsing in Gaza City's police headquarters, which was home to Abbas's security forces until Hamas took over. A photograph of Abbas's predecessor, Yasser Arafat, still hangs on the wall behind them as they sing.

The Protectors of the Homeland perform for police units in Gaza and at public functions such as police graduation ceremonies. They also sing and perform short anti-crime skits in jails to ''entertain and educate'' prisoners.

Amnesty International has accused Hamas's security services, as well as their Fatah counterparts in the West Bank, of abusing human rights and Israel has attacked police posts in Gaza in recent weeks, describing them as ''terrorist positions.'' Hamas has its own satellite TV channel, radio station and newspapers and has used its influence in the media to garner political support during its power struggle with Fatah.

Hamas's Al-Aqsa Television earlier this year aired a weekly show featuring a Mickey Mouse lookalike who urged children to support armed resistance against Israel, prompting complaints by Israeli watchdogs and international scrutiny.

The character was beaten to death in the show's final episode by a character portraying an Israeli.

The Protectors of the Homeland hope to boost their influence by releasing a cassette of their music, and are working on a video clip to showcase work done by Gaza's police force.

''We aim to entertain,'' Abdu said. ''To help ease the people's suffering and at the same time we deliver a message about morals and values.'' REUTERS SV DS1312

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