Gaza footballers travel to West Bank for return-leg

Israeli authorities question three players before allowing Al-Shejaiya to exist the enclave for West Bank.

    Players from the Gaza Strip's club Al-Shejaiya have finally been able to exit the coastal enclave for the return-leg against Ahli Al-Khalil, the top team in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

    Israel strictly controls the Gaza border, and the second match between the teams had been postponed over a dispute involving security checks on some of the Gaza players.

    West Bank team in Gaza for historic football match

    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.

    Ahli Al-Khalil became the first team from West Bank to play in the Gaza Strips since 2000.

    The game ended in a goalless draw with around 7,000 fans filling Gaza's Yarmouk stadium, which was decked with Palestinian national flags.

    More than 1,000 security men from the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza kept order.

    The Palestine Football Association (PFA) has accused Israel of hampering its activities and restricting the movement of players between the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

    The PFA wanted Israel to be kicked out of FIFA but had to back out of the proposal and amend it due to insufficient support from other member boards at the Congress in May this year.


    EXCLUSIVE: Palestine 'lacked support' to ban Israel from FIFA


    Officials told Al Jazeera that the permission to let Ahli Al-Khalil cross the border was part of the deal between Israel and the PFA following the withdrawn proposal.

    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 return-leg 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 PFA 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.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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