Gaza (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has cancelled the third edition of the Gaza Marathon scheduled for 10 April because Hamas wanted to ban men and women from running together, the agency announced in a press release. The marathon was cancelled "following a decision by the authorities in Gaza not to allow women to participate," the UNRWA statement said.
At the time of the cancellation, 807 people had registered, almost 400 were women, UNRWA said.
In justifying its position, Hamas-dominated government of Gaza said that the ban was in place for at least 16 years.
"We regret this decision to cancel the marathon," Abdessalam Siyyam, cabinet secretary of the Hamas government, told the AFP news agency.
"We did not tell UNRWA to cancel the marathon and we haven't prevented it, but we laid down some conditions: We don't want women and men mixing in the same place," he said.
"This year we have trained and exhausted ourselves for this marathon," said Noora Bulbul, a 13-year-old girl who studies at an UNRWA school. "Why ban girls from taking part? They know very well that girls swim in the sea alongside boys," she said. "What's the difference?"
Ayman Abdullah, 16, who took part in last year's race, also said he was disappointed that the race had been called off, saying it was "an expression of freedom and which showed that we in Gaza are a civilised people."
In recent months, Hamas has been criticised on several occasions for trying to impose Sharia on Gaza Strip.
In January, it adopted a law that forces female students at Gaza University to wear a veil.
In November, its security forces used violence to disperse hundreds of women demonstrating in favour of inter-Palestinian reconciliation.