Palestine finally return home
The Palestinian national football to end their exile by hosting Jordan near Jersualem
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2008 20:06 GMT

The Palestine football team finally get to represent their country on home soil [Al Jazeera]
The Palestinian national team will play its first match on home soil on Sunday when they host Jordan in an international friendly at a new stadium near Jerusalem.

Previously, Palestine have played all their matches abroad, mainly in the Qatar and Jordan, because football's world governing body, Fifa, has deemed the Palestinian territories unsafe to host visiting teams.

"(Sunday will be) an important day for Palestinians as for the first time... there will be an international match between Palestine and Jordan in Jerusalem," Palestinian FA chairman Jibril Rajoub said.

Rajoub, a former Palestinian security chief, has been instrumental in the revival of football in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Fifa President Sepp Blatter, who on Sunday begins a four-day visit to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, will attend the match at a new stadium in A-Ram near Jerusalem.

The stadium was renovated for $4 million.

While in the West Bank, Blatter will also open a women's football tournament.

Politics still present

Still, politics threatens to mar the event.

Six of the team's 26 members, including captain Saeb Jundiyeh, are still in Gaza, awaiting word from Israel on whether they will be permitted to travel to the West Bank.

Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the travel request.

Rajoub said national team coach Izzat Hamza, a Jordanian, would select many young players for the fixture.

Palestinian football saw the start of a revival in the West Bank in August with the relaunch of a semi-professional league that was suspended after a violent clashes between Palestinian groups and Israel erupted in 2000.

Teams from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded by Israel since the Islamist group won a parliamentary election two years ago, do not take part in league matches.

The Israeli blockade was tightened last year when Hamas seized control of the coastal territory after defeating Fatah forces loyal to President Abbas.

Stop personal agendas

Rajoub has asked Hamas leaders to set up large TV screens for communal viewing of the game.

The prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, is a football enthusiast.

"We want to keep sports away from the political debate,'' Rajoub said of the rivalry with Hamas.

"We don't want Palestinian sport to be a victim of personal agendas.''

The modern Palestinian FA, which represents the Palestinian territories, was officially recognised by Fifa in 1998.

The original Palestine FA formed in 1928 by Jewish players was the precursor to the Israeli FA.

The Palestinians are ranked 180th of 207 members by Fifa, peaking at No. 115 in April 2006.

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