Palestine could be forced to field an understrength team for their 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier against the UAE next week as their Gaza Strip-based players may not be granted entry into the West Bank, according to a senior official at the Civil Affairs ministry.
The Knights, who top AFC second qualifying round Group A with three points from two matches, are due to take on the UAE at the Faisal Al Husseini Stadium in Ramallah next Tuesday.
Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian Football Association President, has held a meeting with Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Hussain Al Shaikh to coordinate entry to the West Bank for the UAE team.
A Civil Affairs ministry official told Gulf News the Emiratis’ access to the West Bank shouldn’t be a problem, but admitted the Gazans may well be kept out.
The Palestinian national teams comprises players from both the West Bank and Gaza and previous Israeli pledges suggested there would be no problem with the entry of Gazan players into the West Bank for the match.
The Palestinian Football Association had earlier dropped an official request to oust the Israeli association from world football’s governing body Fifa after Israel provided pledges that the regime would facilitate the movement of players between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Nonetheless, the official is concerned. “The potential stumbling block is the entry of the Gazan players into the West Bank. The Israelis categorically refuse even to address the issue of the Gazan players. So there is a problem with that and thereby [it’s possible] the Palestinian national team will not play at full strength if the Israelis deny entry to some players,” the official said.
During the meeting with the minister, the Palestinian Football Association vowed to take the issue to the international community to press Israel to allow Gazan players to participate in the match.
Regarding the UAE, the official confirmed that Al Shaikh himself is in charge of facilitating the team’s entry into the Palestinian territories. Special coordination is required as the UAE does not have a diplomatic relationship with Israel.
“We have not secured final permission from the Israelis for the entry of the UAE national team members into the Palestinian territories,” the official said. “In early discussions, though, the Israelis do not have a problem with the team’s entry and our coordination is underway.”
The official stressed that, if Israel permits the UAE national team members into the West Bank, they will enter via the King Hussain Border Bridge, which separates Palestine from Jordan. This bridge is dedicated for the use of Israelis, Jordanians and tourists only as Israel has a peace treaty with Jordan. The Allenby Border Bridge (Al Karamah Bridge or Shaikh Hussain Bridge) is used for West Bankers.