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Palestinian Territories

UN cancels Gaza Marathon after Hamas objects to women

A UN agency has canceled the Gaza Marathon after the ruling Hamas movement refused to allow women to run. More than 2,400 people had been expected to attempt the full distance, a half-marathon or a 10-kilometer dash.

Officials for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said 807 people, including 385 women, signed up for this year's race, which spans the entire length of the coastal territory and was to have taken place on April 10.

That number would have included 256 women from Gaza. At least 1,600 local boys and girls had also been expected to run some length of the course.

"UNRWA regrets to announce that it has had to cancel the third UNRWA marathon which was to be held on 10 April," its statement said. "This disappointing decision follows discussions with the authorities in Gaza who have insisted that no women should participate."

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 when it ousted the rival Palestinian movement Fatah in street battles in the coastal strip.

Marathon drawcard

The marathon began as a mostly local event in 2011, but drew increased international participation by 2012.

The course starts near the border with Israel at Beit Hanoun in the north and finishes in Rafah, near the Egyptian border in the south, and leads along the coast as well as past the ruins of several buildings destroyed by past Israeli missile strikes.

UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna said the decision was made after Hamas refused to allow men and women to run together.

"Hamas refused to let women participate in this very important marathon," Hasna said. "They told us about this condition several days ago and we went into long negotiations but we failed. They pushed us to cancel the marathon and I'm very sorry because it is a very important event for Palestinian refugees."

mkg/ipj (AFP, AP)