July 28, 2011 — -- More than 15,000 kites flew above a northern Gaza beach on Thursday, breaking the world record for the most kites flown simultaneously.
The world record was the seventh that children from Gaza have broken in two years, part of an ongoing effort by the United Nations to provide summer entertainment for hundreds of thousands of children in Gaza and to draw attention to the effects of Israel's blockade.
Fifteen thousand young Palestinians spilled out of buses dressed in matching t-shirts and sneakers as electronic music blared in the background. The children obediently went to their assigned sections along a 1.2-mile stretch of sand to collect their kites under the blazing late-afternoon sun.
Shortly after six o' clock, a speaker onstage announced the start and the sky was suddenly filled with kites -- plastic Spider-man kites and paper kites with the colors of the Palestinian flag. The goal was to beat the record set in China in April of 10,465 kites, a record that had bested the Gaza record set last summer.
As the sun set, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) -- the agency that manages the U.N.'s work with Palestinians -- announced that the record had been broken, with an unofficial tally of more than 13,000 kites and the official count to follow Friday.
"The tiny Gaza, David defeated the massive Chinese Goliath," said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.
"For them to be number one in the world is an extraordinary thing," Gunness told ABC News. "They're seen as victims, they're seen as locked up, they're seen as people who are living in this strange enemy enclave. Here they are suddenly being happy -- smiling faces like kids anywhere in the world enjoying summer games."
Indeed, Gaza is more often synonymous with violence than children at play. The Israeli military said Thursday that 24 rockets were fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza into Israel in July. Overnight, UNRWA said 10 militants attacked the beach site, burning a U.N. flag, billboard and stage.
UNRWA has ruffled the feathers of Islamists here, including Hamas, many of whom don't believe boys and girls should be playing together.
It is the extremists that UNRWA is trying to keep the children away from. Israel has had a land and sea blockade of Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007, deemed illegal by the United Nations.
"We've seen more and more desperation, more and more misery," said UNRWA's Gunness. "Of course, in situations of desperation and misery, extremism easily takes hold. There are plenty of historical precedents for that. "
This is the third year running that UNRWA has been holding its "Summer Games." This summer saw a quarter of a million Gaza children sign up.
"They take care of us so professionally, our hopes grow," said 14-year-old Nayeema al-Maden. "We, thank, thank, thank UNRWA for the Summer Games."
And as for the record?
"We're very happy we broke the record," said al-Maden. "When they do the next Summer Games, I'll be involved and we'll break another record."