Symbolic Palestinian football match back on track
Amman - A symbolic football match between Palestinian teams from Gaza and the West Bank, postponed because of disputes with Israel, has been rescheduled.
The match, which was to have been played August 9th in the West Bank town of Hebron, is now slated for August 14th, the Palestinian Football Association said in a statement posted on its Website.
The association said the Gaza team crossed into Israel en route to Hebron after Israeli authorities questioned three players for two hours before ultimately letting them exit Gaza.
The match, meant to promote long-awaited Palestinian unity, was postponed due to Israeli insistence on subjecting four members of the 37-person football delegation from Gaza to “security interviews”, the association said earlier. It was not immediately clear why Israel questioned only three.
Al-Ahli, from Hebron, and Gaza’s Shejaiya played their first match in 15 years on August 6th in Gaza, a game that ended in a 0-0 draw. A return match was planned in Hebron before the Israeli demand that some members of the Shejaiya travelling group be questioned.
Al-Ahli and Shejaiya won championships in their respective leagues this season and the winner of the series between them would be eligible to represent the Palestinian territories in international competitions.
Gaza, severely damaged in a war with Israel last year, and the West Bank are areas Palestinians hope to include in an independent state. The militant Hamas group, however, took over Gaza violently from the moderate Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2007. Since then, the coastal strip has been under a stringent Israeli blockade.
The two football matches were seen as a bid to bridge deep political divisions that have hampered reconciliation efforts between Hamas and the PA. Gaza and the West Bank are separated by Israeli territory. Gaza residents are usually subject to painstaking Israeli border restrictions. Israel had asked four members of Shejaiya’s delegation to submit to security interviews as a condition of leaving the territory, according to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an Israeli Defence Ministry unit that coordinates with Gaza.
The Palestinian Football Association, which is led by former West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub, and the Shejaiya club initially refused. Rajoub said that athletes should travel freely without security interference under the rules of the international football federation, FIFA.