Israel issued an official invitation to Saudi Arabia's national football team to play its country in a friendly match, authorities confirmed on Monday, as players make a controversial visit to the occupied West Bank, which has been slammed by rights groups as an "act of normalisation".
The request was made in a post by the "Israel speaks Arabic" Facebook page, an official account affiliated with the Israeli foreign ministry, which published an image of the Saudi team visiting the occupied West Bank a day earlier.
"A Saudi football delegation visited Al-Quds [Jerusalem] ahead of the football match against Palestine. We are delighted to extend the spirit of the sport to invite the Saudi team to play against Israel too," the post said.
It was the first visit by the Saudi national team to the occupied Palestinian territories and comes after the request by the Palestinian Federation, Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the country’s Sports Authority said.
"At the request of the brothers in the Palestinian Federation, the Saudi Football Federation agrees to play the first team match in the Asian qualifiers in the city of Ramallah in Palestine," Saudi Arabia's Sports Authority said on 3 October in a statement on Twitter.
The match is due to take place at 12,500-seater Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium in the Palestinian village of Al-Ram, however, Palestinian rights group have denounced the move due to the ongoing Israeli occupation.
Arab teams have historically refused to play games in the occupied Palestinian territories, as they would be required to apply for entry permits given by Israel. This would breach a decades-long boycott of Israel, although Iraq, the UAE, and Bahrain have broken the boycott.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said Saudi Arabia playing on Palestinian turf aids "normalisation with Israel via sports".
The group called on Palestianians to boycott the game and publically expressed their anger at the "marketing for Saudi policies in the region, and opening the door for the normalisation with the Zionist entity".
The head of the Palestinian Football Association said that hosting the match would be a historical event for both notions.
Riyadh has historically supported the Palestinian cause, refusing to recognise the political existence of the state of Israel. Some Gulf states - including Saudi Arabia - have warmed ties with Israel in recent years.
Backdoor discussions between Israeli and Emirati and Saudi officials have also been hinted at, with Saudi Arabia reportedly considering an option of buying Israeli natural gas.
Last year, surprise talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Oman's Sultan Qaboos in Muscat.
Gulf rulers have come under harsh criticism for their perceived abandonment of support for Palestinian statehood and the rights of millions of Palestinians living under occupation.
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