By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - Often injured in high-risk jumps over obstacles in cemeteries and abandoned buildings, Gaza's parkour enthusiasts can now practice their niche sport on safer ground.
The Palestinian territory's first parkour gym - equipped with wooden boxes over which youngsters can soar in twists and flips, and padded mattresses to land on - has opened its doors.
Developed in France, the dynamic urban sport took root in Gaza around 15 years ago. It provides its own sense of freedom of movement in an area locked in conflict with neighbouring Israel, which blockades the enclave, citing security concerns.
"I have played parkour for 13 years now. During those 13 years I have suffered several injuries, the worst was to my wrist, and it stopped me playing the game for a year," said Jehad Abu Sultan, 32, one of two coaches at the new Wallrunners academy.
Some 70 athletes, male and female and aged between six and 26, are enrolled in his current free three-month course. Dozens are on waiting lists.
Abu Sultan, a co-founder of Gaza's first parkour group, began practicing his acrobatics at a cemetery in the territory's Khan Younis refugee camp. He said injuries forced some of his colleagues to quit.
"There were no safety and security factors. Now with this hall and this first academy we can avoid injuries. A player will perform the moves easily," he said.
Mohammad Al-Masri, 17, said police used to give chase when he and others played parkour at schools.
"I used to be scared when I played," he said. "Now I am here, playing safe."
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and John Stonestreet)