BETHLEHEM (AFP) -- Hundreds of athletes on Sunday braved freezing rain to take part in Bethlehem's first-ever marathon which was won by a Palestinian runner from the West Bank town of Jericho.
Some 500 runners, half Palestinians and half foreigners, took part in the different legs of the race, organizers said, which began at 8:00 a.m. as the West Bank town was buffeted by cold winds and an unseasonable downpour.
The full marathon was won by Abdel Nasser Awajneh, a Palestinian from Jericho, a correspondent at the scene said. His racing time was to be officially announced at a news conference during the afternoon.
Around 100 competitors took part in the full 26 miles, while another 150 joined the half marathon, organizers said. Some 250 joined either the six-mile or 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 tour of the hilly southern West Bank city which Christians believe is the birthplace of Jesus.
Marathon runners had to do two laps of the course after organizers were not able to find an uninterrupted 26-mile stretch within Area A, the small portion of the Israeli-occupied West Bank which is under full Palestinian control.
Etidal Abdelghani, deputy director general of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, which co-sponsored the event, said the aim of the race -- the first West Bank marathon to conform to international standards -- was to demonstrate just that.
"This is a message that we have the right to move and to have sports events in Palestine without any obstacles," she said.
Among the international participants was Komar Nawaz, a 34-year-old woman from London, who ran the six-mile race.
"We were supposed to do the Gaza one and then it got cancelled, but we were already training so we looked for something else and this one was perfect," she told AFP.
The UN's annual Gaza marathon, set for April 10, was cancelled at the last minute after the Islamist Hamas authorities who govern the enclave said they would not let women and men run together.
"We do a lot of work for Palestine back in the UK and we have got different trips to places across the West Bank this week," added Nawaz.