KHAN YUNIS, Palestinian Territories: The biggest football event of the year in the occupied Palestinian territories took place on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) with a rare match between teams from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Shabab Khan Yunis, from Gaza’s second city, hosted Hebron’s Ahly al-Khalil who beat the hosts 1-0 in the first leg of the Palestinian Cup.
The cup pits the winners of leagues in Gaza and the West Bank against each other for a place at the next season’s AFC Asian Cup.
The return leg is set to be played in Hebron on Saturday, but whether it takes place will depend on Israel allowing the Khan Yunis players to travel to the West Bank city.
Palestinian footballers routinely complain of being unable to attend matches because of Israel’s stringent restrictions on movement between the two territories.
Tuesday’s fixture was no exception — Kifah al-Sharif, the president of Ahly al-Khalil, said the Israeli authorities had prevented eight of the club’s players from entering Gaza on Sunday.
It was only the second time Israel has allowed a West Bank team to play in Gaza since the Islamist Hamas group took power in the coastal enclave in 2007.
Tokyo Sexwale, a South African FIFA official who served prison time with Nelson Mandela and stood for election in February as FIFA president, visited the West Bank last year and pledged to push for free movement for Palestinian footballers.
Palestine has been a member of FIFA since 1998.
Sharif said Tuesday’s match was “excellent” and called for more interest in football as it “unites and brings everyone together”.
Shabab Khan Yunis fans at the Yarmuk stadium held up signs reading “Welcome to Gaza.” AFP