By Andrew Warshaw
August 2 – Israeli authorities have finally relented and reversed a ban on six Palestinian footballers after initially refusing them entry to the occupied West Bank to play the decisive second leg of the Palestine Cup final.
The Shabab Khan Younis players had been due to play Ahly al-Khalil of Hebron at the weekend but were barred from crossing through Israel.
The Palestinian Cup pits the winners of the West Bank Premier League and the Gaza Strip League for a place at next season’s AFC Asian Cup and the delayed fixture is now due to be played this afternoon, three days behind schedule, following Palestinian protests to FIFA.
Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service gave no reason why the ban was reversed but local reports said FIFA had intervened and that the players entered through the Erez checkpoint on Monday without any delays.
Palestine Football Association chairman Jibril Rajoub, who is understood to have filed an official complaint to FIFA, said the entry of the players and two support staff “proves that from the beginning there was no justified reason other than the desire to trip up and be cruel to the players.”
The movement of Palestinian players and equipment between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through the Israeli-controlled territory has been a heated topic of debate over the last year. A member of FIFA since 1998, the PFA withdrew a motion at last year’s FIFA congress seeking Israel’s expulsion but only after being promised that mediation efforts would intensify.
The latest incident clearly demonstrates that little has changed despite the efforts of the mediation committee chaired by South African businessman and former political prisoner Tokyo Sexwale whose task it is to bring the two sides together and forge a compromise.
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