Israel Bars 103 Gaza Athletes from Running Bethlehem Marathon

BETHLEHEM, March 31, 2016 (WAFA) – Israel has refused to allow 103 Gaza athletes to participate in the third annual Palestine Marathon scheduled to kick-start Friday in Bethlehem, said a marathon coordinator.

Palestine Marathon Coordinator I’tidal Abdul-Ghani said Israel has refused to grant 103 Gaza athletes permits to exit the blockaded Gaza Strip in order to compete in Friday’s race in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Among those denied access into Bethlehem was the Olympic athlete Nader Masri, who participated in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and participants from Right to Movement and Right to Play.

Abdul-Ghani slammed barring Gaza athletes entry into the West Bank historic city as “a blatant violation of all international laws and norms pertaining to athletes’ freedom of movement.”

This is not the first time that Israel has barred Gaza runners from taking part in the Palestine Marathon.  In the first and second annual Palestine Marathon in 2013 and 2014, Israel refused to grant athletes permits to join the marathon, while it only allowed few athletes in 2015.

The marathon is a collaborative event that is co-organized by the Palestine Olympic Committee and Right to Movement in order to highlight Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement across the occupied Palestinian Territories.

The marathon 42-kilometer (26-mile) course will take athletes through different views on Palestinian daily life, including a few steep hills and some fast sections. It will start at the Church of the Nativity in the central old city of Bethlehem and will take the runners through the city, Aida and Ad-Duheisha refugee camps and along the Israeli apartheid wall.

Athletes will get a unique medal crafted from local Palestinian olive tree wood and a diploma certificate.

The marathon is anticipated to commence in the presence of Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun, Bethlehem Governor Abdul-Fattah Hamayel and a host of officials representing police and the Palestine Olympic Committee.

Israeli forces still impose severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement across the West Bank through a complex combination of fixed and flying checkpoints, settler-only by-pass roads and various other physical obstructions.

Palestinians’ freedom of movement has been much more restricted since violence engulfed the territories and Israel in October 2015.

Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip and subsequently tightened restrictions on Palestinians travelling in and out of Gaza after Hamas came to power in 2006.

The West Bank, of which East Jerusalem forms an integral part, and the Gaza Strip form the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that Israel has occupied since June 1967.

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