Saudi soccer team to play Palestine in West Bank
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Saudi soccer team to play Palestine in West Bank

PA President Abbas said to invite Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to watch next week’s World Cup qualifier

Team Saudi Arabia celebrates after Saudi Arabia's Hassan Altambakti scored his side's second goal during the Group E U20 World Cup soccer match between Saudi Arabia and Mali in Gdynia, Poland, May 28, 2019. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)
Team Saudi Arabia celebrates after Saudi Arabia's Hassan Altambakti scored his side's second goal during the Group E U20 World Cup soccer match between Saudi Arabia and Mali in Gdynia, Poland, May 28, 2019. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Saudi Arabia’s national soccer team will play the Palestinian national team in the Palestinian territories on October 15, the kingdom’s sports authority said.

The game, due to take place in the West Bank city of Ramallah, would mark a change in policy for the Gulf state, which has previously played matches against the Palestinian team in third countries.

“At the request of the brothers in the Palestinian federation, the Saudi Football Federation has agreed to play the team’s first match in the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup against Palestine… on October 15… in Ramallah,” the Saudi Sports Authority said on Twitter Friday.

The decision is aimed at ensuring the Palestinian team is “not deprived the chance to play at home and among its fans like other countries,” it added.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly invited Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to watch the game, although there has been no word yet from Mohammed if he will accept the offer.

Both Abbas and Mohammed have urged fans to keep the game friendly.

Spectators hold a huge flag depicting Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock shrine during a match between Palestinian team Hilal al-Quds and Morocco’s Raja Casablanca in the Arab Champions Cup at Faisal Husseini stadium in the town of al-Ram, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, on October 3, 2019. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Arab clubs and national teams have historically refused to play in the West Bank, where the Palestinian national team plays, as it they would be required to apply for Israeli entry permits.

This was seen as breaching a decades-long Arab boycott of the Jewish state over its treatment of the Palestinians.

But in recent years clubs or national teams from Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have all visited.

Others, including Egypt and Lebanon, still refuse to do so.

Four years ago a similar game was ultimately played in Jordan after pressure was placed on the Saudis not to enter the West Bank.

Speaking Thursday, the head of the Palestinian soccer association, Jibril Rajoub, announced that the Saudi team would arrive on October 13.

The game to be played at the Al-Ram Stadium, which is recognized by FIFA, would not breach boycott attempts, he said.

Saudi officials have made it clear that their team will enter the West Bank via Jordan and will have no contact with Israeli authorities during the visit, Channel 13 reported.

Israel gained control of the West Bank in 1967 and any person seeking to visit Palestinian cities must obtain an Israeli permit.

Saudi Arabia does not officially recognize Israel and has regularly thrown its support behind the Palestinians. But it is widely considered to have clandestine links with the Jewish state over its common foe Iran.

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