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.

 

Iraq dismisses US call for Iranian-backed militias to 'go home'

Opposition calls on Iraqi Kurd leader to step down

IS ‘executed’ 116 suspected of Syria regime collaboration

Israel arrests 51 Palestinians for ‘terror-related’ crimes

Greening the Camps brings food and hope to refugees

UNICEF says 1,100 children malnourished in Syria’s Ghouta

UN says Yemen children in desperate need of aid

Orthodox Jews block Jerusalem entrance in protest

Six terror suspects arrested in Morocco

EU announces 106 million euros in aid for Sudan

French judges to rule on whether 'Jihad' is acceptable name

Saudi Aramco chief confirms IPO despite doubts

Lack of accountability hinders governing in Morocco, analysts say

Sudan editor convicted after Bashirs accused of graft

Russia’s Lavrov urges Iraq-Kurd dialogue

Kurds to arrest 11 Iraqis in response to similar Baghdad move

Car bomb attack kills 9 in south Yemen military base

Rouhani boasts about Iran’s greatness in region

Iraq unrest highlights long-standing political divisions

Bahrain temporarily frees female activist

Egypt court sentences 11 people to death for 'terrorism'

Israel police arrest 15 over anti Jewish-Arab dating campaign

Tillerson woos Gulf allies to curb Iran influence

Abadi, Sadr meet in Jordan

No clear US strategy in Syria after Raqqa liberation

Tillerson pushes to undercut Iran at landmark Saudi, Iraq meeting

Gulf share values plummet

US-backed forces capture key Syria oil field

More than half of Austrians vote for anti-immigration party

Washington sees potential Hezbollah threat in the US

UN ends Libya talks with no progress made

Cairo killing sparks security concerns among Copts

Iraq PM arrives in Saudi to upgrade ties

35 Egyptian police killed in Islamist ambush

Morocco recalls Algeria envoy over 'hashish money' jibe

Ceremony marks 75 years since WWII Battle of El Alamein

Somalia attack death toll rises to 358

Long road ahead for families of jailed Morocco protesters

How Raqa recapture affects complex Syrian war

Israel hits Syrian artillery after Golan fire

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike