Palestinians To Cancel Cup Final After Israel Bars Gaza Players From West Bank Entry

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The Palestinian body that oversees football in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is cancelling the Palestine Cup Final after Israel barred a number of Gazan players from entering the West Bank to play the final’s second leg.

On Wednesday, Shabab Khan Younis attempted to travel to the West Bank via the Israeli-controlled Erez checkpoint, having to enter Israel to reach the territory. Israeli authorities held the team for 12 hours before barring six players from entering Israeli territory.

This left the team with only ten players for the crucial fixture that was to be played on Saturday. The Palestinian Football Association (PFA) said that the fixture will be canceled as it will not allow Israel to decide the composition of the different teams. The goalkeepers were barred, as well as the team’s spokesperson and one of its coaches.

PFA chairman Jibril Rajoub condemned the decision to stop some of the players from traveling for the game.

“This behavior is embarrassing,” he told Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “The players arrived at the checkpoint and were forced to wait 12 hours and to undergo interrogations and checks that have no relationship to security. I heard they were asked about their neighbors and about all kinds of things in Gaza that have no connection to security.”

“The sole purpose was to wear them down for hours upon hours in the burning heat, and in the end to allow only part of the team to pass the checkpoint and reach Hebron,” he added.

The final, which Al-Ahly is winning 1-0 from the first leg, will see the winner represent the Palestinians in the Asian games and other Middle Eastern competitions. “I don’t know if there’s any place else in the world where they treat soccer teams like this,” he added. PFA officials remain in discussions with Israeli authorities to seek the entry of the players into the West Bank so the second leg can go ahead.

Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, told Haaretz that some of the players were barred “due to damaging security information and in light of the security situation.”

Palestinians argue that the Israeli government and Israeli forces seek to stifle Palestinian sport as a further extension of the military occupation in the West Bank and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

But Israel said that it has conducted raids on the PFA headquarters, such as one in November 2014, and restricts the movement of Palestinian personnel, regardless of their status, into and out of the Gaza Strip for security reasons.

The Islamist militant group Hamas controls the enclave and has engaged in three wars with Israel since 2008. Israel has also faced a wave of stabbing, shooting and car-ramming attacks by Palestinians against Israelis across the country and in the West Bank.

In 2015, the West Bank’s Al-Ahly football team from the city of Hebron traveled to Gaza to play Shejaia in the coastal enclave for the first time in 15 years for the Palestine Cup after Israel permitted entry.