May 6, 2011 - 12:00am

About 1,500 professional and amateur runners have participated in the first-ever Gaza Marathon Thursday, which aims to raise funds for a United Nation's agency that helps Palestinian refugees.

School children participating in the marathon run in relays along the route from the northern Gaza Strip to its southern end, while adults and the professional athletes run the full marathon, half marathon or 10 kilometers at the end.

The sun rise was the zero hour for the marathon which took the entrance of the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun as a start line.

Dressed in brightly-colored T-shirts, more than 50 runners kicked off as they heard the starting whistle.

The UN Relief and Works Agency is looking to raise 100,000 U.S. dollars through this event for the Summer Games program the agency has been holding for year in the Hamas-controlled enclave.

The UNRWA's Summer Games is a large-scale recreational program that provides the children of Gaza with a rare opportunity to enjoy a moment of joy and normality as it is joined by 250,000 kids every year.

The Hamas police escorted the foreign runners and activists who participated in the event, which is held a few weeks after Gaza extremist Islamists kidnapped and killed an Italian peace activist.

Palestinian athlete Nader al-Masri, who participated in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and preparing to enter the 2012 Games in London, won the full length race.

"It was a great race and my thanks go to the organizers of the event. This is the first marathon to be held in Palestine. I dedicate my victory to the Palestinian people, martyrs and prisoners for signing the national unity agreement," al-Masri said.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017