The city of Jerusalem has hoisted a Syrian flag near the Knesset on the route of this week’s annual marathon race in case a Syrian runner shows up.
Damascus-born Hasan Aljijakli, who has lived in the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands, registered for the race but, according to a report Wednesday on the Ynet news site, has yet to pick up his runner’s kit.
“In the past 24 hours, 80 flags from the 80 countries from which the runners have come to run have been raised on the streets of Jerusalem,” Mayor Moshe Lion told Ynet, which showed the Syrian flag flying.
The Jerusalem Marathon website lists Rotterdam Atletiek as the runner’s home club. Aljijakli has competed for several years at the international level with a personal best of 3:06:58.
“In the united capital of Israel, we respect everyone and believe that sports do not mix with politics,” Lion said. “Sports are a bridge to connect between different peoples and cultures.”
It is not yet clear whether Aljijakli intends to come to Israel. Although Israel and the Netherlands have close friendly relations, Israel remains in a state of war with Syria and Syrian citizens are not normally allowed to visit except with special arrangements.
A serious competitor, Aljijakli has been running for several years and spent several years in the UAE training with the Desert Road Runners Club, where he improved his times.
Looking beyond flat ground, Aljijakli also competed in a stair-climbing competition at the 101-story Princess Towers in Dubai, where he climbed 62 floors in 11 minutes and 25 seconds.
Some 38,000 runners from 80 countries have registered for various races taking place during the ninth annual Jerusalem Marathon, which will be held Friday, March 15. More than 35,000 runners from 72 different countries participated in last year’s marathon events, with Kenyan runners Kipkogey Shadrack winning the men’s race and Emily Chepkemoi Samoei the women’s.
The Tel Aviv marathon in February attracted an estimated 40,000 runners, including 2,500 from abroad.