by Osama Radi, Emad Drimly
GAZA, March 6 (Xinhua) -- In a tiny green soccer pitch, 20 young women from the Palestinian Gaza Strip receive their preliminary softball training sessions.
Iman al-Mughayar, a 23-year-old, never expected that one day she would become a softball player.
Her only experience with the sport was watching baseball matches and games on television.
Last month, Al-Mughayar, along with 19 other young women began learning and training to play softball.
This is the young women's first time ever to practice the sport in the Gaza Strip which has been under a strict Israeli blockade since 2007, with the Islamic Hamas movement ruling the coastal enclave.
Nevertheless, training for this type of sport in the Gaza Strip is a challenge due to lacking infrastructure and necessary equipment.
Before going to college, al-Mughayar and other players train in the early morning hours, covering their hair with scarves and wearing long-sleeved training sports wear.
"I'm so happy to train and I hope one day to be a professional softball player and represent Palestine in international competitions," al-Mughayar told Xinhua, who started training only a couple of weeks ago.
What most attracted her about softball, she says "is that the game basically depends on speed, focus and physical fitness," adding that she discovered that "softball benefits all the body's muscles, despite the primitive equipment we use during training."
However, the players don't have the necessary uniforms, gloves, balls or helmets and resort to using regular gloves and tennis balls instead.
Walla Hussein, a 21-year-old softball player, told Xinhua she hopes one day the players will receive some or all the required gear as well as uniforms like all other international teams, adding that "so we develop further professionally."
About two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip with its nonexistent sports playgrounds.
Baseball and softball games were first launched by Mahmiud Tafish, a 35-year-old Gazan citizen, a former football player who learnt how to play baseball in Egypt several years ago.
Tafish coaches 20 male baseball players, and 20 female softball players, in addition to being the Palestinian Baseball Union's first chairman.
Baseball and softball are almost identical in many respects, but a few major differences exist between the two.
Baseball may not be easily recognizable, however, softball is currently played throughout the world.
"After reaching an agreement with five local sports clubs in the Gaza Strip, I began training the first male and female teams in Gaza," Tafish told Xinhua, adding "I also received permission from the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports to train in Gaza."
He noted that Palestine ranks as "the fourth Arab country which recently began baseball training," adding "we hope to establish our national baseball teams. Tunis, Iraq and Egypt are the other three Arab states who own their baseball playing fields and teams."
Male and female player ages range between 18 - and 25-years-old in the Gaza Strip.
Tafish said that "I hope one day our Palestinian teams will play overseas and participate in Arab and international competitions."
Tafish also hopes that a Palestinian national baseball team will be able to join the 2020 Olympics scheduled to be held in Japan.
A baseball or softball game is played by two teams alternating between offense and defense positions.
There are nine players on each side and the goal is to score more runs than the opponent, achieved by a circuit of four bases.
Softball, a variant of baseball, is played with a larger ball and on a smaller field.
Slightly similar to baseball, softball however, has notable differences, for example, the ball is larger in softball whereas the field is smaller, and base runners cannot leave their bases until the batter has released the pitch.