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Palestinian women who are members of the security forces of Hamas demonstrate their skills during a graduation ceremony in Gaza City, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011.

Hatem Moussa/AP

Gaza's third international marathon has been cancelled after the ruling Hamas movement refused to allow women to run, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday.

UNRWA officials said more than 800 people, nearly half of them women, had signed up to participate in this year's race, which runs the entire length of the coastal territory and was to have taken place on April 10.

"This disappointing decision follows discussions with the authorities in Gaza, who have insisted that no women should participate," a statement said.

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UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna told Agence France-Presse the decision to cancel was taken after the ruling Islamist movement refused to back down over the issue of women and men running together.

"Hamas refused to let women participate in this very important marathon. They told us about this condition several days ago and we went into long negotiations, but we failed," he said.

UNRWA officials say 807 people had entered this year's race – 551 locals and 256 international runners. Of that number, 385 are female – 266 from Gaza and 119 from overseas.

Another 1,600 schoolchildren, girls and boys, were also to have joined the race.

A senior Hamas official confirmed the ban on women runners but expressed regret that UNRWA had cancelled the entire event.

"We regret this decision to cancel the marathon but we don't want men and women running together," said Abdessalam Siyyam, cabinet secretary of the Hamas government.

"We don't want any women running uncovered."

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