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Saudi Arabia to play World Cup qualifier against Palestine in West Bank

Palestinian Football Association hails this month's game as 'historic step' after Riyadh's refusal to play in Ramallah in 2015
Saudi Arabia's national football team takes part in a training session during the 2018 World Cup in Russia (AFP)

Saudi Arabia's national football team will compete against Palestine later this month in a stadium in the occupied West Bank, north of East Jerusalem, Saudi and Palestinian officials said on Friday.

The match, which is scheduled for 15 October as part of qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asia Cup, will be held at the Faisal al-Husseini International Stadium.

The stadium is located just 100 metres from Israel’s Separation Wall in the town of al-Ram.

Jibril al-Rajoub, chief of the Palestinian Football Association, described the match as an “historic step”, in a statement.

“This step is a message to the occupation that Palestinians are not alone, and I hope this Saudi historical position will be an incentive to others to visit Palestine and play on its ground, as FIFA grants Palestinians the right to host matches,” Rajoub said.

Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority said in a statement that it had accepted the invitation from the Palestinian side to play the match in al-Ram.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of Palestinian Authority (PA), had called on the Saudi national team to play in Palestine during a meeting on Tuesday.

“We warmly welcome the Saudi national team to the World Cup qualifiers. From here, we greet them, and the Saudi national will be a dear guest in the land of Palestine,” Abbas said.

Rajoub said that they had received a named list of players, administrators and staff from the Saudi team.

Israeli travel restrictions

The PA hosted the first international match for Palestine against Jordan in 2008 at the Faisal al-Husseini International Stadium.

In November 2015, the Saudi football federation refused to play against Palestine in the second leg of a qualifying match in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup, citing security reasons.

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The match was played in a stadium in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

Last month, the final of the Palestinian national football club championship was called off due to Israeli travel restrictions placed upon Gaza players who were geared up to compete against their opponents in the occupied West Bank.

Israel refused to let players from Gaza’s Khadamat Rafah club travel through its territory to play Nablus’ FC Balata in the central West Bank.

Only 12 out of 35 members from Khadamat Rafah were granted travel permits, of which only five were players, according to the team.

The Palestinian Cup is recognised by FIFA, and the winner would have represented Palestinians in the Asian Champions League, a qualifier for the FIFA Club World Cup.