TEL AVIV - Israel has denied one of the Palestinian Authority’s only Olympic athletes permission to leave the militant-controlled Gaza Strip and participate in this week’s marathon in Bethlehem.
"I am well known, as a runner for 14 years, and there is no reason to reject and not to allow me to go to the West Bank," said Nader al-Masri, 34, who was granted permission to compete in the 2008 Beijing Games. “I am just an athlete. I am not politically active. Not one of my brothers are politically active."
“It is strange for me that I am the only Palestinian marathon runner, and I can’t participate with my own people," he added.
Al-Masri's request to leave Gaza, cross Israel and enter the West Bank had been denied two weeks ago because “it does not meet the policy of transition from Gaza,” an Israeli defense ministry spokesman said. The policy of transition refers to the rules governing the separation between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel’s Supreme Court rejected al-Masri’s appeal of the decision on Tuesday.
The spokesman added that the marathon had been organized by the Palestinian Authority, which is “tainted by political shades who delegitimize the State of Israel."
Some 3,000 people are expected to run in Bethlehem's marathon in the West Bank, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War and which Palestinians want in order to create an independent state together with Gaza.
Israeli and Palestinian officials have been locked in increasingly acrimonious talks on restarting U.S.-backed peace negotiations. On Wednesday, Israel announced a partial freeze in high-level contacts with the Palestinians in retaliation for their signing of international conventions.
F. Brinley Bruton and Reuters contributed to this report.