For the first time in fifteen years, a Gaza soccer team was permitted to host its West Bank opponent in the final round of the Palestine Cup. Hebron’s Ahli al-Khalil faced off against Gaza’s Ittihad Shuja‘iya on 6 August. Less than three months after Israel’s vow at the FIFA Congress to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players between the West Bank and Gaza (see above), Palestinian officials reported that Israel blocked the team’s entry on 3 August, their scheduled arrival date. The players were permitted to enter Gaza the next day, however, after a PFA complaint led to FIFA pressing Israel on the issue. Around seven thousand fans filled Yarmouk Stadium for the historic match, which ended in a goalless stalemate.
Shuja‘iya then traveled to Hebron to face Ahli in the final game of the Palestine Cup. While the match was originally scheduled to be played the same week as the Gaza match, it had been indefinitely postponed after Israel denied four Shuja‘iya players entry to the West Bank. Although Israel eventually allowed them in, Israeli security officials held them for questioning, forcing the team to spend three hours at the Erez Crossing.
On 14 August, the two clubs played in front of eleven thousand fans at Hussein Bin Ali Stadium. In a closematch, Ahli’s Ahmed Maher scored the winning goal in the first minute of injury time, putting Ahli ahead 2–1 and securing the team’s spot in the next Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup due to be held in 2019.
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