First Published: 2015-08-12

Symbolic step toward Palestinian unity: West Bank football match back on
Shejaiya players visit Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, after crossing border.
Middle East Online

Initial leg was played in Gaza

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - Football players from the Gaza Strip were able to exit the coastal enclave Wednesday for the return leg of a match being seen as a symbolic step toward Palestinian unity, officials said.

Israel strictly controls the Gaza border, and the second match between the Strip's Shejaiya and the West Bank's Al-Ahli had been postponed over a dispute involving security checks on some of the Gaza players.

Both Israel and Palestinian officials confirmed that the Gaza team crossed the border into Israel on the way to the occupied West Bank, and that the game was set to be played in Hebron on Friday.

Gaza, ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas, is under blockade by Israel, which fought a devastating war with the group last summer. It is separated from the West Bank by 60 kilometres (36 miles) of Israeli territory, and Gazans are subject to rigorous border restrictions.

Shejaiya players visited Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, after crossing the border.

The initial leg -- the first match between the two clubs in 15 years -- was played in Gaza Thursday and ended in a goalless draw.

West Bank and Gaza Strip teams play in separate leagues, in which Al-Ahli and Shejaiya emerged as champions. The winner will be eligible to represent Palestine, a member of FIFA since 1998, in international competitions.

The match was initially set for Sunday, but was postponed after Israel asked four members of Shejaiya's 37-member delegation to submit to security interviews as a condition of leaving Gaza.

The Palestinian Football Association and Shejaiya club categorically refused.

However, on Wednesday, Israeli authorities questioned three players for two hours before allowing them to exit Gaza, according to the association's Ismail Matar.

The West Bank is run by the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas, and attempts at reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions in recent years have proved futile.

But the matches were being seen as symbolic victories over the bitter political divisions and the blockade.

 

Qataris to do hajj on Saudi king expenses

Veteran crisis manager Ouyahia recalled as Algeria PM

Saudi Arabia, Iraq draw closer with wary eye on Iran

Iran’s Karroubi on hunger strike over 6-year house arrest

Civilians stay on frontlines despite dangers in Raqa

Iraq acknowledges abuses in Mosul campaign

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism

Israel to free high-profile suspects in money laundering probe

Spanish police shut down jet-ski migrant smugglers

Syrian actress, activist Fadwa Suleiman dies in Paris

Israeli court extends detention for Islamic cleric over ‘incitement’

UAE to provide $15 million a month to Gaza

Sudan's Bashir 'satisfied' with Nile dam project

US-backed rebels say American presence in Syria to last ‘decades’

Tunisian clerics oppose equal inheritance rights for women

Israel strikes almost 100 Hezbollah arms convoys in 5 years

UN hopes for eighth round of Syria talks before year’s end

LONG READ: How Syria continues to evade chemical weapons justice

Civilians killed in US-led raids on Raqa

Qatari pilgrims begin flooding into Saudi by land

Turkey arrests 9 more journalists for alleged ‘Gulen links’

Saudi Arabia to restart work on Grand Mosque expansion

Algeria reshuffles cabinet, nominates three new ministers

Syria rebels lose heavyweight faction

ICC orders Mali ex-jihadist pay 2.7 m euros for Timbuktu destruction

Libya seeks to ‘organise’ NGOs carrying migrant rescue Ops

More than one million South Sudan refugees in Uganda

Beirut, Damascus pledge to boost economic ties

Two killed on Gaza-Egypt border

Fire breaks out at UNESCO heritage site in Saudi Arabia

Iran military chief in Turkey for talks on Syrian war

Saudi Electricity announces $1.75b in international loans

Israel to strip Jazeera journalist of press credentials

Bahrain state media accuses Qatar of trying to topple regime

Iran's Khamenei blasts US over Charlottesville

Libyan forces snub ICC over warrant for commander

Iran’s detained opposition leader starts hunger strike

Arab fighters struggle to make impact in battle for Raqa

IS suicide bombers kill seven Iraqi security personnel

Lebanon repeals 'marry your rapist' law

Qatar’s sovereign fund plans new investments despite sanctions

Turkey asks Germany to investigate 'top coup fugitive' sightings

Iran laments ‘hypocritical’ US religious freedom report

No single pattern in radicalisation of foreign fighters, says Tunisian study

Turkey tells Iraqi Kurds that referendum risks ‘civil war’