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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Israeli Arabs win first soccer cup
Sakhnin fans celebrate victory
Israeli Arabs flocked to the cup final
A football team from an Arab town has won Israel's main football cup for the first time in the country's history.

Arabs throughout the northern Galilee region celebrated on Tuesday night as Bnei Sakhnin defeated Hapoel Haifa 4-1 in the State Cup final.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon congratulated club chairman Mazen Ghnaim and promised to help to build a new stadium in the town.

Bnei Sakhnin will now play in next season's Uefa Cup.

"I'm sure they will represent Israel honourably in Europe," Mr Sharon said in a statement.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the achievement brought "honour to the Palestinian people".

Israeli Football Association chairman Itche Menachem said the victory was a "bridge for peace and co-existence between our peoples... and a great celebration for Israeli soccer".

Model of harmony

The town of Sakhnin is known for hosting commemorations for six Arab Israelis killed by police during protests against land confiscation in 1976.

But the team, which was promoted to the first division last season, is seen as a model of Arab-Jewish harmony.

It has 12 Arab, seven Jewish and four foreign players, as well as a Jewish coach.

Cash difficulties have meant that it cannot use its own dilapidated stadium and has to travel 30km (19 miles) to Haifa for its home games.

Israel's 1.1 million Arabs, descended from Palestinians who stayed in the Jewish state after it was created in 1948, make up around 18% of the country's population.




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