Lionel Messi and fellow Barcelona stars were mobbed by football fans on their arrival in Israel, where the Spanish giants are staging two "training camps for peace" for Israelis and Palestinians.

The players visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, were greeted by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Bethlehem and were working with Palestinian youngsters in Hebron on Saturday night.

On Sunday, they are due to meet Israel President Shimon Peres before coaching more children in Tel Aviv.

"The goals are important but it's also crucial to educate children and try to bring them together," said the Barcelona midfielder, Andres Iniesta.

The training sessions are organised by the Peres Centre for Peace as well as the Israeli and Palestinian football federations.

Palestinians turn out to see the team [Reuters]

In October 2012, Barcelona caused controversy when former Israeli soldier Gilad Shait, held for five years on the Gaza Strip, was invited to watch the "Clasico" fixture between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

It was a decision which sparked calls for a boycott of the Catalan club.

About 25,000 spectators turned up for the Saturday night training session in Hebron, a crowd which included Mohammad Assaf, the Gaza singer who won the "Arab Idol" talent show earlier this year.

Fans jostled for the opportunity to snap Messi and his teammates on their mobile phones.

After a brief warm-up period, the Barcelona stars played with a group of boys and girls, relaying some of the secrets of their trademark intricate passing game.

Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestinian football federation, said he hoped that when Barcelona visited again in the future, it would be in a "an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel".

"Sport is the best way to overcome hate and hostility," said Rajoub, describing the visit as an "historic day".

Source: AFP