By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Trading jabs and punches, a team of young female boxers - some as young as four - trained on the beach in Gaza this week after their club was closed due to COVID-19.

The sight of over a dozen girls boxing on the beach while wearing face masks caught the eye of passersby in the Mediterranean coastal enclave, where the sport is mostly popular with men.

The girls' coach, Osama Ayob, said the public training sessions could help get more girls involved in the sport. Women make up half of the strip's two million population.

"Some families walking by us liked the idea and they asked if they could send their girls so I can train them," said Ayob, 34.

One of the boxers, 15-year-old Malak Mesleh, said she would rather train in public than miss out on sessions -- or, worse yet, risk contagion by practising in the team's gym.

"We decided to leave the club because it is a closed space, and the virus, if present, would easily spread," she said.

Gaza has reported 55 COVID-19 cases, all of them in quarantine centres, and not deaths. Schools, wedding halls and gyms have been closed but the strip's Islamist rulers Hamas have not imposed a full lockdown, saying it was not necessary.

(This story corrects name in paragraph 5 to MALAK, not MALAH)

(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi, Editing by Rami Ayyub and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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