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Saturday, November 6, 1999 Published at 19:40 GMT

World: Middle East

Boost for Palestinian football

Palestinian football star Iyad Hajjar injured in the Pan Arab games

Palestinian soccer has received a boost with a $1m pledge from Fifa president Sepp Blatter.

"We are giving Palestine priority treatment," said the head of the international football federation during a visit to Gaza.

While he was there, he laid the cornerstone for a new football stadium and the headquarters of the Palestinian Football Federation.

"I will help football in Palestine," said Mr Blatter, a day after meeting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The $1m grant is intended to help the Palestinian Football Federation improve facilities in Gaza and West Bank over the next four years.

The federation became a full member of Fifa last year after lengthy provisional membership. The Palestinians see their team as a symbol of statehood.

The team put in an unexpectedly strong performance by reaching the semifinals of the Pan Arab Games in Jordan.

Political obstacles

Most of the players come from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank but they have had trouble training together because of Israeli restrictions on movement between Palestine self-rule areas in the territories.

Mr Blatter and his delegation were held up for 45 minutes by Israeli soldiers at the Erez checkpoint at the entrance to the Gaza Strip.

He said he would ask the Israelis to make it easier for Palestinian soccer teams to travel between the two areas.

Mr Blatter is on a tour of the Middle East. He will be travelling to Israel to attend a Euro 2000 play-off between Israel and Denmark in Tel Aviv on 13 November.

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