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Palestinian football tournament delayed after Israeli travel ban

Players from Shabab Khan Younis (in white) were prevented from travel [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 31 July, 2016

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The Palestinian Cup final was postponed on Saturday after Israel prevented a Gazan football team from traveling to the occupied West Bank city of Hebron for the tournament.

The final leg of Palestinian football's biggest tournament was postponed on Saturday after Israel prevented players from Gaza travelling to the West Bank for the fixture, football authorities said.

Israel refused to let six players and the coach of Shabab Khan Yunis cross its territory to the West Bank for the Palestinian Cup final, said Jibril al-Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Football Association.

The Palestinian Cup pits the winners of leagues in the two territories against each other for a place at next season's AFC Asian Cup.

Shabab Khan Yunis players had been hoping to cross Israel to the occupied West Bank city of Hebron to play Ahly al-Khalil, who visited Gaza last week and beat their hosts 1-0 in the first leg of the final.

But the entire Shabab Khan Yunis team was detained and interrogated in "inhuman conditions" at the Erez border crossing into the coastal enclave, Rajoub said.

The six players who were turned back did not have permits from Israel to enter its territory, he said, adding that the PFA postponed the match for 48 hours.

That may still leave time for the permits to be issued, allowing the players to travel and the match to go ahead.

Rajoub said the PFA had complained to football's international and Asian governing bodies.

The PFA is in a bitter struggle with its Israeli counterpart over the freedom of movement of Palestinian players.

Rajoub has led a campaign aimed at having Israel suspended from FIFA.

Gaza, ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas, is under strict blockade by Israel, which fought a number of devastating wars against the territory.

It is separated from the West Bank by 60 kilometres (36 miles) of Israeli territory, and Gazans are subject to rigorous border restrictions.

Rajoub said FIFA's President Gianni Infantino would visit Gaza soon.

In April, Israel blocked over a hundred Palestinians from the Gaza Strip seeking to take part in the Palestine Marathon in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Among the Gazans prevented from travelling to the marathon was Palestinian reigning champion and Olympian Nader al-Masri.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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