A former Palestinian football player recently released from an Israeli jail has rejected an invitation by football club Barcelona to its upcoming game against Real Madrid.
Mahmoud al-Sarsak rejected the invite on Sunday after Hamas, the Palestinian group controlling the Gaza, called for a media boycott of next month’s Barcelona-Real Madrid derby if the Catalan club goes ahead with plans to welcome Gilad Shalit, a former Israel soldier, to the game.
Shalit, freed by Hamas last October in a prisoner swap deal with Israel, was kept in captivity by the group for more than five years after he was taken prisoner in 2006.
Barcelona invited three Palestinians to the game after receiving criticism over their invitation to Shalit, who is known to be football fan in his home country.
Hamas said Shalit’s attendance at the game on October 7 would be offensive.
“We call on all Muslim, Arab and Palestinian media not to broadcast this game if Shalit attends,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Sarsak’s rejection of the invitation comes a day after he said he would attend next month’s derby but not in the same stand as Shalit.
The footballer told the AFP news agency on Friday that the invitation to attend the clash of the Spanish giants was dear to his heart and that of the Palestinian people, but he would not attend if he had to share it with Shalit.
“This invitation is very important for me and for the Palestinian people but I will not be able to accept it unless the Palestinian Authority gives me authorisation,” Sarsak said.
Sharing a box with Shalit on October 7 would be tantamount to a “normalisation” with Israel, he said. “Sports and politics mix here.”
Sarsak was arrested in July 2009 while on his way from Gaza to sign for a West Bank club and was held without charge under Israel’s “unlawful combatants” law.
On Wednesday, FC Barcelona said it had agreed to invite Shalit to the Real game, drawing the ire of Palestinian groups.
The next day, the Catalan club said it had also invited the president of the Palestinian football federation, Jibril Rajub, the Palestinian envoy to Spain and Sarsak to the derby.
Rajoub and the Palestinian ambassador to Spain confirmed attendance.