A land more noted for political marathons celebrated its first official full-length marathon run, yesterday, with competitors running the 42 kilometres from one end of the Gaza Strip to the other.
Gaza sees 1,000 run in its first ever marathon
GAZA CITY // More than 1,000 runners took part yesterday in the Gaza Strip's first official marathon, a landmark recreational event in a territory far more accustomed to war and violence.
The tiny Mediterranean territory is some 42km, from top to bottom, just the right length for an official marathon.
Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, the UN body that organised the event, said: "There is the New York Marathon, the London Marathon, the Tel Aviv Marathon, and now there is also the Gaza Marathon."
About 50 runners bolted from the starting line at dawn yesterday, setting out on a course that stretched from the northern border town of Beit Hanoun, near Israel, cut to the Mediterranean shore and dashed to Gaza's southernmost tip, on the Egyptian border.
Just nine runners - Palestinian athletes training for next year's Olympics, and international aid workers - ran the full course.
The others ran shorter distances, with about 150 women walking 10km of the route and more than 1,000 schoolchildren in brightly coloured T-shirts sprinting in shorter relays of one- to 4km relays.
Armed security men from the governing Hamas militant group watched on from the sidelines.
First to cross the finish line was 31-year-old Palestinian Olympic trainee Nader al Masri, who competed in the 5,000 metre race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is now training for the 2012 Games in London.
Al Masri finished in 2hours, 47minutes and 47seconds, short of his goal of two-and-a-half hours. He was still elated.
"This is a very happy day for me because it is the first-ever marathon in Gaza," al Masri said. "It is a day of joy."
UNRWA, which aids Palestinian refugees, organised the event as a fund raiser, raising about US$1million (Dh3.6m) from international donors to fund its summer camps for Gazan children.
This week, Hamas agreed to form a unity government with the Fatah movement.