(JTA) – A Palestinian soccer team in Gaza is hosting a team from the West Bank for the first time since 2000.
After receiving permission from Israel, the West Bank club, Al-Ahly from Hebron, crossed into Gaza on Tuesday for Thursday’s match against Shejaia, Reuters reported.
Israel’s office that controls travel in and out of Gaza confirmed to Reuters that Al-Ahly’s travel had been approved but did not explain whether the decision had been planned or was the result of a sudden change of policy.
Before FIFA held its annual meeting in May, the Palestinian soccer association had been pushing for months for the sport’s international governing body to suspend Israel from FIFA competition because of its travel restrictions on Palestinian players. The bid was dropped just before the FIFA meeting.
Gaza sports official Abdel-Salam Haniyeh said that Israel’s decision to allow West Bank Palestinians to come for the match was a result of the international pressure.
“This is an achievement for the Palestinian sports family and is a first step towards a unified Palestinian league and cup tournament,” Haniyeh told Reuters.
Israel cites security reasons for restricting travel in and out of Gaza.