Gaza runners - Reuters - March 2012
Runners take part in a 10 km race, as part of the second annual Gaza Marathon, organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip March 1, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Thousands of children ignored rain and wind Thursday to run the length of the Gaza Strip in a marathon organized by the United Nations Relief aid Works Agency (UNRWA) to draw attention to their situation.

The event, which kicked off at Beit Hanoun in the north and ended at Rafah, 42 kilometres away, was held to raise funds for the summer camps UNRWA organizes every year.

The aim was to attract international attention to the plight of the children of Gaza and the need for funding their annual camps, UNRWA deputy director Christer Nordahl said.

"The marathon sends two messages; the first is that Gaza children are seeking to enjoy a normal life equal to other children in the world and the second that UNRWA is in real need from Arab and international countries to keep providing services to the Strip's people," Nordahl said.

Participants held up a banner calling for more international aid to the Strip, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2006.

The participating children study at UNRWA schools. They were classified into groups according to age and distance attempted. Some ran 1 kilometre, some 10 kilometres and some ran half the marathon.

They were joined by 500 runners, including 200 women, from the Gaza Strip, the wider Middle East and the rest of the world, who were sponsored by friends, colleagues and families.

Two Palestinian Olympic runners, Nader al-Masri and Baha el-Farra, who plan to compete in the 400-metre event at the London Olympics
later this year, also joined the run.

The Gaza Strip children's summer camps are funded by international donors, as well as Palestinian contributors, such as the Bank of Palestine, World Vision and Jawal Phone Company.