Marathon off as Hamas bans women

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The United Nations aid agency for Palestinian refugees has cancelled a marathon in the Gaza Strip after the ruling Hamas movement made clear that women would not be allowed to participate.

It was the first time Hamas has banned women since the race, which aims to raise money for UN summer camps, was launched three years ago. This year’s race, which had been scheduled for 10 April, was due to have been the biggest yet. Two hundred and sixty internationals, including 120 women and 550 Palestinians from Gaza, 270 of them women, registered.

Many of the foreign runners were from the UK, according to Sami Mshasha, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency which organised the event.

Hamas seized power in Gaza during an armed takeover in 2007 from president Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah movement and has since attempted to crack down on behaviour at variance with its strict interpretation of Islam.

“In previous years there were no problems to speak of,” Mr Mshasha said. “We advised participants to dress appropriately and this should have sufficed.”