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Sports pays a price in Israeli bombing of Gaza

Sports pays a price in Israeli bombing of Gaza

09 September 2014 in 2014

Israel's 51-days of relentless attacks against the Gaza Strip damaged sporting activities in the besieged enclave as well, but the Palestinian national football team carries on.

During the 51 days of relentless Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, 32 sportsmen lost their lives and numerous sports facilities were damaged.

An Egypt-brokered cease-fire came into effect on August 26, after only 2,145 Palestinians were killed -- the vast majority of them civilians -- and with over 10,000 injured.

Among those killed were two 19-year-old football players at the start of their career -- Ahmad Muhammad al-Qatar and Uday Caber. The death of two young players not only broke their families' hearts, but also dented the enthusiasm of those who work for the country's future in football too.

Ahed Zakut, 49-year-old Palestinian football legend, was also killed at his house during Israel's open fire last month. Zakut, who was also a football coach and a journalist, played for different clubs abroad in his career.
Immeasurable damage

Palestine Football Association stressed that the ongoing war between two states caused "immeasurable damage" and said 32 sports facilities and around 500 athletes' houses were damaged in the Gaza Strip.

Palestine will now seek retribution for the country's material and moral damage sports-wise through international law. According to the official records which were published by the Palestine Football Association, Israel was sued over a hundred times because of the alleged violation of law against Palestinian sports.

The cases include the imprisonment of Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian football player who spent three years in jail between 2009 and 2012. He was arrested by Israel without trial or charge. Sarsak, who went on hunger strike for three months in 2012, was accused of being "active" in the Islamic Jihad.

Another high profile case is the bombing of the Palestinian Football Stadium in Gaza by Israel, both in 2006 and 2012.
Palestine National Football Team carries on

Despite the tough times the country has undergone, the Palestine National Football Team continues to make the country proud at international level. Palestinian football, which was acknowledged by FIFA in 1998, had a breakthrough this year. For the first time in their history, Palestine qualified to play in the Asian Cup 2015, after beating Philippines 1-0 in the AFC Challenge Cup in May 2014.

Although the country is yet to appear in the FIFA World Cup, their recent success has helped them move up in July's 2014 FIFA World Ranking list to 85th spot. They are currently listed at 88th spot.

Palestine's football team recently participated in the 2014 Philippines Peace Cup, where they finished third out of four teams and the tournament's top goal scorer was Palestinian Ahmed Maher with five goals.
International support for Palestine from the football world

Palestine has seen international support from the football world as well. Mohamed Aboutrika, a former international Egyptian football star, rejected the invitation from Pope Francis for an interreligious match for peace because an Israeli player, Yossi Benayoun, was also taking part.

"This is a photo of the match invitation which I turned down because of the Zionist state. Pardon us, but we are raising a new generation," he shared from his Twitter account.

Israel and Palestine agreed on an unlimited cease-fire last month, but sporting events including football have already been cancelled in the country.

UEFA announced in July that the Israeli teams who will take part in European Competitions will play their matches abroad.

They also confirmed that the EURO 2016 qualifier match between Israel and Belgium, which was scheduled for 9 September, will take place on 31 March 2015.

On another note, Israeli football club Maccabi Tel Aviv's coach, Oscar Garcia resigned due to the Gaza rocket threat on August 26th. The Spanish coach was replaced by another Spaniard, Pako Ayestaran.

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