Soccer teams from West Bank, Gaza play for first time in 15 years

Alhi Al-Khalil will play Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh on Thursday.

By Ed Adamczyk

GAZA CITY , Gaza, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- A West Bank soccer team will play in Gaza for the first time in 15 years after Israel relented on a travel ban.

The Ahli al-Khalil team of Hebron, West Bank, will play its rival, Gaza's Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh, on Thursday in the first round of the Palestine Cup. The match was scheduled for Tuesday and promoted as symbolic of Palestinian unity, but was postponed after Israel denied travel permits due to "security reasons," the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) said.


The teams will play another match in the West Bank Friday. Israel has already approved the travel plans.

The PFA has long accused Israel of obstructing its mission through slowing the movement of players between Gaza, on Israel's west, and the West Bank on its east, and earlier this year attempted to have Israel removed from FIFA, soccer's global organizing body. Israel has conducted a nine-year blockade of Gaza, limiting the traffic of goods and people.

"We hope that the match (Thursday) will be a way to embody the unity of our people, especially since our politicians are so divided," said Ahli president Kifah Al-Sherif. "If it goes ahead it will be proof that sport can achieve advances that politics cannot."


Yarmuk Stadium in Gaza City, where Thursday's match will be played, can hold 10,000 spectators. The winner of the match will represent Palestine in international competitions.

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