Barca Heading to Israel, West Bank

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Barcelona’s star-studded squad will take a break from its regular preseason schedule to visit Israel and the West Bank this weekend on a two-day “Peace Tour.”

The Spanish champions are due to arrive in Israel on Saturday afternoon, only hours after playing a friendly against Brazilian club Santos at the Camp Nou the night before.

Lionel Messi and new signing Neymar are expected to be among the players who will lead two football clinics with local children.

When the trip was first announced in February, Barcelona chairman Sandro Rosell said he hoped to center events around a peace match between Barcelona and a mixed Israeli-Palestinian team. But the proposed game was canceled after Palestinian Football Association chairman Jibril Rajoub objected to it.

Instead, the team will hold workshops with Israeli and Palestinian children as well as meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.

Barcelona will be at the Dura Stadium near Hebron in the West Bank on Saturday to hold workshops and a series of mini-games in which dozens of Palestinian children will be given the opportunity to interact with the players.

On Sunday evening, up to 12,000 children are expected to attend a similar event at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, including children who regularly attend activities organized by The Peres Center for Peace.

The club said that all proceeds of the Peace Tour “will be donated to the promotion of peace between Israelis and Palestinians through the values of sport.”

In a statement released earlier this year, the club said it is committed to continuing an “ongoing effort to bring peace to the area.”

The visit comes a week after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Washington to relaunch peace talks that collapsed in 2008.

The Peres Center has ties with Barcelona and other Spanish clubs. In December 2005, Barcelona beat a joint Israeli-Palestinian team 2-1 in a peace match held at the Camp Nou, and in June 2007 Real Madrid won a similar game 8-0 at Ramat Gan Stadium.

FC Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, left, and Israel's President Shimon Peres pose for photographers during a press statement at the Kfar Maccabiah sport center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Thursday, Feb. Credit: AP