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Palestinian cup final postponed as players denied travel permits by Israel

Four players barred by Israel from travelling to Hebron for second leg of rare meeting between champions of Gaza Strip and West Bank
Thursday's match in Gaza City was the first between clubs from Gaza and the West Bank in 15 years (AFP)

The Palestinian Football Association has postponed the second leg of the rarely played Palestinian Cup final between the champions of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank after several players and officials from Gaza were prevented from travelling to the match in Hebron.

Shejaia of Gaza and Al-Ahly from the West Bank met in a goalless draw in Gaza City on Thursday and were due to travel together for Sunday’s scheduled return match in the occupied West Bank.

But a spokesman for Shejaia said that Israel had refused to issue four players and three club staff with travel permits necessary to leave the Palestinian enclave.

“It became clear seven people, including four players were not on the list and therefore, the entire mission can't leave Gaza without them,” Ala Shammaly told the Reuters news agency.

The Ma’an News Agency identified the players as Hussam Wadi, Maysara al-Bawwab, Omar al-Arier and Hashem Abed Rabbu.

Thursday’s match at the Yarmouk Stadium was the first meeting between clubs from Gaza and the West Bank in 15 years, with the winners of the two-legged final playing for a place in the prestigious Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup. Clubs from Gaza and the West Bank compete in separate leagues.

Palestinian officials said prior to the first leg that Israel had agreed to allow Palestinian players to travel between Gaza and the West Bank as part of concessions made in return for the Palestinian FA dropping its efforts to have Israel banned from international competition.

Israeli officials told Reuters the four players denied permits had failed to turn up for special questioning on Thursday before the start of the weekend and accused Jibril Rajoub, the chairman of the Palestinian FA, of “cheap provocation”.

They said they had offered to let the rest of the team cross on Friday, and had proposed that the remaining four players join them after questioning on Sunday.

Jibril said on Thursday that he had received a letter from Sepp Blatter, the head of football world governing body FIFA, pledging help to remove obstacles preventing the return leg from going ahead.

Delegates at FIFA’s congress in May voted for the formation of a committee to look into the freedom of movement of Palestinian football players and allegations of Israeli racism.

Israeli football officials also agreed to concessions removing obstacles to players’ movement including providing them with special identification cards.

Palestinian campaigners have called for Israel to be banned from world football because of the restrictions it places on the movement of Palestinian players and because of the presence in the Israeli league of clubs based in illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.