Karen Kjaer, a foreigner taking part in a marathon, runs past part of the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem yesterday. The race, which is called the ‘Right to Movement Palestine Marathon’ is the first such sporting event to be held in Palestine. Image Credit: EPA

Bethlehem: Hundreds of athletes on Sunday braved freezing rain to take part in Bethlehem’s first ever marathon which started at the Nativity Church and ran through refugee camps. More than 400 runners signed up to take part in the race, which began at 8am as the West Bank town was buffeted by cold winds and an unseasonal downpour. About 100 of the runners, both Palestinians and foreigners, were taking part in the full 42.2-kilometre race (26 miles), while another 150 joined the half marathon, organisers said. The rest took part in either the 10-kilometre (six mile) or five-kilometre (three mile) races. Another 26 runners from Gaza were denied permission by Israel to travel to Bethlehem to join the race.

Sunday’s race, which is called the “Right to Movement Palestine Marathon” and is the brainchild of two Danish women athletes, takes runners on a 13-kilometre tour of this hilly southern West Bank town which Christians believe is the birthplace of Jesus. Marathon runners were to do two laps of the course after organisers were not able to find an uninterrupted 42-kilometre stretch within Area A, the small portion of the Israeli-occupied West Bank which is under full Palestinian control.