Palestinian soccer association postpones cup final after Israel blocks travel

Official says Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, allow only 4 people to cross from Gaza to West Bank to hold game

Khadamat Rafah Club's goalkeeper leaps to save the ball during the during a game in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 30, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Khadamat Rafah Club's goalkeeper leaps to save the ball during the during a game in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 30, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

RAMALLAH — The final of the Palestine Cup has been postponed after Israel denied Gaza-based players permits to travel, the Palestinian Football Association said on Wednesday.

The second leg of the final between Balata FC and Khadamat Rafah, the winners of the West Bank and Gaza leagues, respectively, was due to take place on Wednesday, PFA vice president Susan Shalabi told AFP.

Gaza-based team Khadamat Rafah requested travel permits to the West Bank for 35 people, but Israel granted just four, three of them to club officials, Shalabi said.

“The Israelis are very adamant in their refusal,” she added, saying they had cited security concerns they did not specify.

A Khadamat Rafah official told AFP the club was still waiting for final decisions and was hopeful of securing more permits in the coming days.

“We are ready at any moment. If we got the permits now, in 30 minutes we will be there,” Hodaifa Lafi told AFP. “The game has to go ahead.”

She said it was impossible to discuss a date for the second leg until Israel granted more permits.

COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, said they received a request on June 16 for 35 people to travel.

“Although the application was untimely and therefore made appropriate processing pursuant to the clear guidelines impossible, COGAT went beyond that which was required of it, and, by means of all of the relevant parties, carefully reviewed the application,” it said in a statement.

The first leg, played on Sunday in Gaza, ended 1-1.

The West Bank and Gaza are separated by Israel, and Palestinians looking to travel between the two must apply for Israeli permits.

The tournament faces problems every year with permits for players to leave the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which Israel has kept under blockade for more than a decade. Jerusalem says the blockade is necessary to stop Hamas from arming itself to attack the Jewish state.

The cup did not take place for 15 years largely over problems with Israeli permits, but resumed in 2015 after world soccer body FIFA intervened.

But the Palestinians have since accused FIFA of failing to follow its own rules after it decided to pursue no further action against Israel over the activities of soccer teams based in settlements in the West Bank.

“The way FIFA are dealing with the Israelis is encouraging them to act with impunity,” Shalabi said.

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