West Bank football team in Gaza for historic match

Palestine Cup match to take place after Israel allows crossing of team into Gaza for the first time in 15 years.

The West Bank-based Ahli Al-Khalil football team has arrived in Gaza ahead of its historic match against Gaza side Al-Shejaiya on Thursday.

The game, scheduled to take place in Yarmuk, will be the first time in 15 years that a Palestinian team from the Gaza Strip will host West Bank opposition.

Prior to Al-Ahly’s arrival in Gaza on Tuesday, Palestinian officials said Israel was blocking the team’s entry.

They had originally been expected to enter Gaza on Monday.

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.

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that the permission to let Ahli Al-Khalil cross the border is part of the deal between Israel and the PFA following the withdrawn proposal.

Al-Shejaiya officials also told Al Jazeera’s Safwat Al-Kahlout that both teams will travel to West Bank on Friday for the return-leg, with Israeli authorities already having given that a green light.

Ahli Al-Khalil’s Italian coach Stefano Cusin termed the matches ideal opportunity for his players to improve their skills.

“It’s important for the payers to play againt new faces and this provides us with a perfect opportunity to improve our game,” Cusin told Al Jazeera.

Earlier, Ahli President Kifah Al-Sherif pointed out the importance of the match to ease the political situation in the region.

“We hope that the match will be a way to embody the unity of our people, especially since our politicians are so divided,” he said.

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“If it goes ahead it will be proof that sport can achieve advances that politics cannot.”

According to Gazan sports journalist Ashraf Mattar, as many as 10,000 fans could pack into the Yarmuk stadium to see two of Palestinian best clubs.

For nine years, Israel has imposed a blockade on the territory, limiting the flow of goods and people across its land and sea borders.

The winner of Tuesday’s game will go on to represent Palestine – a member of world governing body Fifa since 1998 – at a number of international competitions.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies