Page last updated at 18:40 GMT, Sunday, 26 October 2008

Palestinian football returns home

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Ramallah


Palestinians celebrate following the final whistle

The Palestinian football team has played its first international match on home soil.

In a newly built stadium in the West Bank, the Palestinians took on Jordan in a friendly - the game finished 1-1.

Until now, the team has been forced to play home fixtures in Jordan or Qatar and Israel has denied some players from the Gaza Strip permission to travel.

But this time all Gaza-based players were allowed to take part in the historic fixture.

The game was also attended by Fifa President Sepp Blatter and other dignitaries from across the Arab world.

Palestinian fans filled the new stadium hours before the start of the match.

And huge crowds outside the ground were in rapture at the scoring of the first Palestinian goal on home soil by Ahmed Kashkash from the Gaza Strip.

There are of course still huge problems here because of the conflict and the Israeli occupation.

Israel controls access to the West Bank and movement within it. Coach Izzat Hamzah says that has had an impact on his team and its preparations.

Held at checkpoints

"We have many players outside Palestine - they cannot be allowed to come here because of the occupation," he said.

He said that players coming from various parts of the West Bank had been held up at checkpoints.

Members of the squad from the Gaza Strip have missed many games in the past through being denied permission to leave Gaza, but they were allowed to participate this time.

Since its recognition by Fifa 10 years ago, the Palestinian team has had to stage its "home" internationals elsewhere.

But many people in the stadium said that Sunday's historic event has given them a sense of pride and as one fan described it, "a taste of freedom".

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