The not-so-little town of Bethlehem is to host the West Bank's first-ever marathon next month in a race starting at the Nativity Church and taking in several refugee camps, organizers said Wednesday.
The brainchild of two Danish women runners, the Palestine Marathon will take place on April 21 and offer runners the choice of three distances: a full marathon of 42.2 kilometers (26 miles), a 21.1 km (13 mile) half marathon or a 10 kilometer (six mile) race.
But given the problems of finding an uninterrupted 42-kilometer stretch within Area A, the small portion of the Israeli-occupied West Bank which is under full Palestinian control, those running the full distance will have to do two loops of the town on a course which passes through Aida refugee camp.
"We thought it would be good to have a positive activity to show a different side of life here," said Signe Fischer, who has been working for a Danish NGO in Jerusalem for several years.
"We wanted to give Palestinians a new type of activity where they can explore their beautiful countryside," she told Agence France Presse, saying the event has no political agenda and has been two years in the planning.
The event is being organised in coordination with an umbrella NGO called Right to Movement and the Higher Council of Youth and Sports.
News of the race emerged a week after the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced it was cancelling its third annual Gaza marathon after the ruling Islamist Hamas movement refused to let men and women run together.
But Fischer said the Palestine Marathon was aimed at encouraging all people to start running, particularly women.
"We have been having practice runs in Beit Jalla since January and now we have 30 people joining every week," she said.
"People have worked hard to get up to 10 km but I've got six weeks to get them up to 21 km," she said, referring to the half marathon. "They are very excited to be exploring their countryside this way."
Organisers say up to 100 international participants have already signed up for race, and hundreds of Palestinians have expressed an interest although local registration only opens this week.
Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv marathon which had been due to take place on Friday, has been postponed due to soaring temperatures, organizers said.
Although runners registered for the half marathon and the 10 kilometer event will be able to run as planned, their events will start earlier to avoid the worst heat of the day which forecasters predict will hit 35 degrees Centigrade.
But those who signed up for the full 42.2 kilometer course will have to wait another week until they can run, with their race postponed until March 22.
Organizers say more than 35,000 people have signed up to take part in the three races, but did not say how many were registered for the full marathon.
Two years ago, the Tel Aviv marathon took place in blazing temperatures and 15 people were treated for heat stroke, including a 42-year-old man who died several days later.
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