GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel has barred 30 runners, including an Olympic athlete, from leaving the Gaza Strip to participate in a marathon later this week, highlighting Israel's tight restrictions on travel in and out of the Hamas-ruled territory, Palestinian officials said Tuesday.
In the case of the Olympic runner, Nader Masri, the travel ban was upheld Tuesday by Israel's Supreme Court. Masri, 34, participated in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Separately, 36 young musicians requested to leave Gaza for a weeklong music competition in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, but were also denied permission, organizers said. An Israeli defense official said a final decision has not been made. The competition begins Wednesday.
The cases underscored Israel's restrictions on Gaza, which human rights activists argue amount to collective punishment and are often arbitrary. They say the travel ban is part of an Israeli attempt to sever ties between Gaza and the West Bank, territories that lie on opposite ends of Israel and are sought by the Palestinians for a future state, along with east Jerusalem.
Israel and Gaza's other neighbor, Egypt, have severely limited access to Gaza since the territory was seized by the Islamic militant Hamas in 2007. Virtually all exports from Gaza are banned and most of Gaza's 1.7 million people cannot travel abroad. Israel considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, a terrorist group.
The Palestinian Olympic Committee said it had asked Israel for permits for the 30 runners to leave Gaza so they could attend the second annual international marathon in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Friday.
Itidal al-Mugrabi, a senior official in the committee, said all requests were denied last month. She said the Bethlehem event, which will also include shorter races, was expected to draw some 700 runners from Europe in addition to local athletes.
After being denied a permit, Masri approached the Israeli rights group Gisha, which appealed to Israel's Supreme Court.
The judges ruled Tuesday that they could not intervene in the defense minister's policy considerations, but suggested the military consider more exemptions from the travel ban.