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.

 

UN Security Council lenient to Turkey’s Syria offensive

Washington probes Hezbollah ‘narcoterrorism’

Morocco's king appoints five new ministers

Pence pledges US embassy move by end of 2019 on Jerusalem trip

Iranian woman skydiver looks to break down stereotypes

Turkey arrests dozens accused of ‘terror propaganda’

Russia calls for diplomatic solution to Yemen conflict

Russia invites Kurds to join Syria peace process

Turkey shells Kurdish targets in northern Syria

Closer look at pro-Ankara rebels amassing around Afrin

Pence set for Palestinian snub

Abbas to ask EU to recognise Palestinian state

Saudi-led coalition to give $1.5 bln in Yemen aid

Mattis: Turkey gave US advance warning on Syria operation

Yemen releases budget for first time in three years

Saudi calls for cooperation between OPEC, non-OPEC countries

France presses Turkey to end offensive against Kurds

The changing faces of al-Qaeda in Syria

Kurdish militia fire rockets at Turkish town

Moroccans wary depreciation of dirham could raise cost of living, despite benefits

Deserted streets, terrified civilians after Turkey attacks Afrin

Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute

Russia-led Syria peace congress to be held January 30

Turkey launches new strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria

Egypt's Sisi says will stand for re-election

Pence heads to Mideast despite Muslim, Christian anger

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination

Journalists arrested while reporting Sudan protests

Aid for millions of Palestinians hostage to politics

Lebanon thwarts holiday attacks using IS informant

Mortar fire wounds 14 in Syria mental hospital

Turkish military fires on Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin

More than 32,000 Yemenis displaced in intensified fighting

UN warns of "lost generation" in South Sudan's grinding conflict

Saudi's refined oil exports offset crude curbs

US to overtake Saudi as world’s second crude oil producer

Turkey's EU minister rejects any option other than full membership

Sudan clamps down on journalists covering bread protests

Tribal feuds spread fear in Iraq's Basra

Turkey says not reassured by US comments on border force

UN chief wants to revive Syria gas attack probe

US has no intention to build border force in Syria

Lebanese intelligence service may be spying using smartphones worldwide

Egypt's Sisi sacks intelligence chief

Trump dashes Netanyahu’s hope to move US embassy to Jerusalem