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UNRWA summer camp in Gaza 311 (R).(Photo by: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
UNRWA hopes for big crowds at 1st-ever Gaza Marathon
By BEN HARTMAN
04/13/2011
Fortunately for the marathon planners, the Strip is almost exactly the length of a marathon, at around 42 kilometers from north to south.
Gaza means many things to many people, but rarely does it bring to mind a runner’s Mecca.

Nonetheless, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees is hoping that the coastal territory will bring hundreds – if not thousands – to take part in the first-ever Gaza Marathon on May 5. The marathon is being held largely as a fundraiser for UNRWA’s 5th annual summer games.

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“The idea is that it’s a fundraising for the Gaza summer games. We supply these games each summer for up to 250,000 children – we have sporting activities, cultural activities and remedial activities for children there because the situation is so terrible for them in Gaza,“ UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said Tuesday.

UNRWA is looking to raise $100,000 for the games. As of Tuesday afternoon its website showed that donors have contributed $2,259.

“Gaza Marathon is very much about raising money and raising awareness. It just shows the world that kids in Gaza just want to be like kids anywhere else in the world. They don’t want to live in this terrible and locked-up environment,” Gunness said.

Fortunately for the marathon planners, the mostly flat Gaza Strip is almost exactly the length of a marathon, at around 42 kilometers from north to south.

According to Gunness, most of those planning to take part in the run will be local Gazans, volunteers and employees from UNRWA and other NGOs, as well as a few members of the Palestinian Olympic team.

He added that there are currently no plans to bring any big-name east African runners to participate.

Gunness said that the marathon will run from the very far northern tip of the Gaza Strip through Beit Lahiya, to the seashore, where it will continue down the coastal road.

However, he said the coastal jaunt could present some difficulties as it will pass areas such as “Wadi Gaza,” where large amounts of raw sewage sits in the open air – posing what he calls “a serious health risk“ that “really does stink.”

On the other hand, he assured that there are no other war-related risks to be posed, adding that “it will be a very pleasant and fun day.”

Assuming all goes as planned, the Gaza Marathon will take place on the heels of the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv marathons, a fact that is not lost on Gunness.

“We’ve had the Jerusalem Marathon, the Tel Aviv Marathon – and now UNRWA is staging the last in a trio of Middle-Eastern marathons: the Gaza Marathon.”
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