Soccer / Gaza World Cup

UN-sponsored tourney aims to highlight the situation in the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli blockade for three years.

GAZA CITY − Applauding vigorously and chanting “PLO, Israel No,” dozens of spectators celebrated as Ireland scored its first goal against England.

Not at Wembley in London, or the new Aviva Stadium in Dublin, which opens later this year, but at the Palestine Sports Stadium in Gaza City, and in a match played in the symbolic World Cup tournament being held in the impoverished territory.

The tournament kicked off Sunday, with a match between Italy and Palestine. Italy won 1-0.

The organizers of the two-week event said it is intended to highlight the situation in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a tight Israeli blockade for three years, and to mark the 15 months since the end of Israel’s three-week military offensive against militants in the coastal enclave.

“From this tournament, we wanted to tell the world that Gazans are playing their favorite game despite the siege and suffering,” said Ibrahim Abu Salim, deputy director of the Palestinian Football Union.

“The championship has two goals: to send a message of internal peace between the local and the foreign players, and to the world, to help the Palestinians end the Israeli siege,” said Tamer Qarmoot, a representative of the UN Development Program ‏(UNDP‏) in Gaza, which is sponsoring the event.

Some 16 Gaza-based Palestinian soccer clubs are taking part in the tournament with each representing a country. Each team has two foreign players, drawn from aid workers and activists in the Strip, and every player wears the kit of the country he represents, bearing the name of one of the players in the international squad.
England, for example, were represented by the Rafah Sports Club from the southern Strip, while the al-Sadaqa ‏(Friendship‏) Sports Club from Jabalya refugee camp in the north of the enclave represented Ireland, which won 2-1.

In addition, teams representing Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Palestine are also competing to win the cup, fashioned out of iron taken from the debris of houses destroyed during the Israeli offensive.