Syria and Israel, neighbors linked by a history of hostility and war, united on Wednesday in a colorful, musical celebration of Olympic ideals. In separate flag-raisings in the Athletes' Village, athletes from both countries were welcomed by a special arrangement of song and dance by the National Youth Theatre.
Syria, wracked by escalating violence since March 2011, joined Haiti, Sri Lanka and Nepal as their national anthems were played. The respective delegates then signed the "truce wall," a structure that symbolizes world peace.
Swimmer Azad Albarazi, who lives in California and trains with 100-meter breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima of Japan, said he still keeps in touch with some of his family back home and knows what success in London would mean to the Syrian people.
"A medal would be amazing," he said. "Any country wants their athletes to get a medal."
Albarazi said he believed politics and sports should be kept separate. "I follow the news on Al Jazeera and all the Arabic countries, but I try to block that off. It's a big distraction right now," he said. "I am here for the 100-meter breaststroke. I am proud and happy to be here."
With their own renditions of the Queen songs Bicycle Race and Don't Stop Me Now, the musicians, dancers, jesters and street performers welcomed the athletes, while Dame Tessa Jowell, the shadow Olympics minister, made a choreographed speech.
Later, Israel joined Spain, Senegal, Switzerland and Cyprus with former swimming gold medalist Duncan Goodhew taking over the speech duties from Jowell.
Cameras were clicking as the athletes got into the spirit of things, with one Syrian even joining in the dancing, to the great amusement of his teammates.
Other athletes, including tennis player Kim Clijsters, were interested spectators as the teams were introduced and the delegates exchanged gifts with the organizers. Some of the theater performers wore "Blade Runner" legs, similar to those used by South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, while others sported umbrellas in gold, silver and bronze.
A queen of ceremonies told the athletes in English and French: "You are the champions."
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