GAZA, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Israel denied permits for 36 runners to leave the Gaza Strip to join in the international marathon scheduled to be held in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on April 1, a senior official said Wednesday.
Nadder Halaweh, a member of the Arab Athletics Union and head of the Gaza runners' delegation told Xinhua the union applied to the Israeli side for permits for 50 runners from the Gaza Strip to join the Bethlehem Marathon.
"The delegation was supposed to leave Gaza to the West Bank on March 27 to prepare to join the marathon on April 1st," said Halaweh, adding "Israel reduced the number from 50 to only 14 runners."
He added that "until now we haven't even heard any good news from the Israeli side on whether they would give exit permits for the 50 members of the delegation."
For the past two weeks, the runners supposed to join the Marathon have been rehearsing in the streets, football stadiums and sports clubs across the Gaza Strip.
Halaweh said Israel has also denied the entry of runners in the 2016 Bethlehem marathon, adding that "this year we applied to the Israeli side asking for the required permits two months in advance."
Israel has been imposing a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip and considers the coastal enclave a hostile entity right after the Islamic Hamas movement forcibly seized control of the territory in 2007.
The annual Bethlehem marathon typically involves 3,000 runners from 26 Arab and foreign countries, including Kuwait and Bahrain.
The ,marathon organizers are the Association for Free Movement.
"We are considered the state of Palestine and it is our right to participate in a marathon that is held in Palestinian territory," said Halaweh, adding "The occupation and internal Palestinian discord are not the players's fault."
Mahmoud Abu Sbitan, a Palestinian long-distance runner from the central Gaza Strip town of Deir el-Ballah, told Xinhua "I have been training for several weeks in order to join the Bethlehem marathon and so far I don't know if I'm going."
"It is really sad to be deprived from joining the Bethlehem marathon. This would not only negatively impact me, but also all my colleagues who would love to represent both Gaza and Palestine in the marathon."