Symbolic Palestinian football match back on track

Friday 14/08/2015
Playing for unity. Palestinian players of Al-Ahli Hebron attend a training session in Gaza City on August 5th.

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.