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Hamas bans women in Gaza race

22 March 2013

by a staff reporter


Excluded: a girl arrives at a UNRWA school in Gaza, a fortnight ago.

Excluded: a girl arrives at a UNRWA school in Gaza, a fortnight ago.

AN ANNUAL marathon race in Gaza, organised by the United Nations, has been cancelled, after Hamas banned women from competing.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said that it had been forced to make the decision after Hamas ruled that it was against local custom to allow men and women to compete together.

The marathon has been held for the past two years, with male and female competitors. The 26-mile course runs the length of the Gaza Strip. Out of more than 2400 people registered for the race, some 370 were women, most of them from Gaza. About 1500 schoolchildren were also due to start the race - although they were due to run only a few hundred metres.

A spokesman for UNRWA said: "It is with sadness and regret that we have been forced to make this decision. But our work in Gaza is based on UN values, standards, and codes of conduct, and we could not go ahead with an event from which women were barred.

"The marathon was an annual event to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, and to raise funds for summer camps organised by UNRWA, which serve at least 250,000 schoolchildren."

A team from the Christian arts festival Greenbelt had been due to run the Gaza marathon. The director of Greenbelt, Paul Northup, who would have been running a marathon for the first time, said that the team had felt "huge disappointment and frustration" at the news.

"The cancellation diverts atten-tion from the real issues we were trying to raise, such as human rights, and focuses it on the fundamen- talist Islamist issue of gender," he said.

The team have now transferred to run the first ever Palestine Marathon, which will start from Manger Square, Bethlehem, in April.

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