Israel Denies West Bank-based Football Team Entry to Gaza

The Israeli authorities on Sunday denied Palestinian footballers from the occupied West Bank visa permits to enter Gaza to face a rival team in the first leg of a cup competition, the Palestinian Football Association said.

The Israeli authorities denied the players and managers of Ahli al-Khalil, based in Hebron, visas to enter Gaza to play Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh at the Yarmouk stadium for the first leg of the Palestine Cup.

The PFA decried the move by Israeli authorities as “racist policies towards Palestinian sports.”

The entry permits were reportedly denied due to “security reasons,” the PFA added, without elaborating.

The match was scheduled for Tuesday and touted as a symbol of Palestinian unity after last year’s devastating conflict with Israel and months of political backbiting.

It would have been the first time the rival teams played each other in 15 years.

According to Gazan sports journalist Ashraf Matar, as many as 10,000 fans can pack into the Yarmouk stadium.

In May, PFA President Jibril Rajoub dropped a bid to suspend Israel from FIFA minutes before the bid was brought to the table.

The football governing body voted instead on an amendment proposing the formation of a committee to monitor the movement of Palestinian football players, Israeli racism, as well as the status of Israeli league teams based in illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank.

The last minute bid changes left FIFA members looking on in confusion as the PFA and Rajoub had for months been saying they would not succumb to pressure to drop the bid.

The move was also widely criticized by Palestinian political factions and civil society, who called for Rajoub’s resignation.

Routine restrictions placed on Palestinian players by Israeli authorities under the pretext of security has long hindered the Palestinian National Football team’s ability to play.

Current and former players have spoken of hours held at checkpoints, being shot at with live Israeli ammunition, the ongoing restriction of their movement, and rampant racist verbal abuse at football matches that the Israel Football Association has ignored.

(Ma’an and agencies – www.maannews.net)

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