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    Football defeats politics at first Palestinian home game

    HotNewsTurkey with wires
    27.10.2008 - 11:58 | Son Güncelleme:

    Cheering and applause filled the new stadium near Jerusalem on Sunday as thousands of Palestinians urged on their national football team in its first ever home match.

    The Palestinian team, recognized by FIFA a decade ago, played at a new 6,500 seat stadium in the occupied West Bank town of al-Ram, near Jerusalem, in a match attended by FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

     

    Less than ten minutes into the game, home captain Ahmed Kashkash outwitted the Jordanian goalkeeper to give the Palestinians the lead, setting off a round of thunderous applause.

     

    Rayed Freish equalized for Jordan shortly after half-time but the determined Palestinian squad clung on to ensure that honors were even in the 1-1 final score.

     

    The event, secured by hundreds of Palestinian police and security officers, was attended by Blatter who is on a four-day tour that included a visit to Jordan on Saturday and events in Israel on Monday and Tuesday.

     

    The crowd gave Blatter a rapturous welcome, waving flags and holding up portraits of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan's King Abdullah, and the late Yasser Arafat.

     

    Blatter said the match "proved that football can bring hope".

     

    "We are here to realize a dream, it is the national team of Palestine playing in its own stadium," Blatter told reporters after meeting Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

     

    "We want to make sure that all national associations, members of FIFA have the right to play their national team matches at home," he was quoted by Reuters as saying. 

     

    In a joint pre-game news conference with Blatter, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad urged more foreign teams to play in the Palestinian territories. "This is a sign of solidarity, its a message of solidarity with the Palestinian people during a time of hardship," Fayyad said.

     

    Gaza's Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, said the game was an opportunity to bridge the rift among Palestinians.

     

    "I hope this game can pave the road to restoring the internal Palestinian relations and bring them back on track," said Haniyeh, a former amateur player, as he watched the game in his Gaza City home along with two sons, a Cabinet minister and several bodyguards.

     

    A spokesman for the Israeli Football Association, meanwhile, said Israel’s national team had no immediate plans to play in the Ram Stadium, but noted that Israeli and Palestinian players formed a team last year to face Real Madrid.

     

    "Every time we are asked to show football can be a bridge to bring people together, we do so and we have done in the past," AP quoted Gil Lebanony as saying.

    Photo: AP

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