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Saudi, Palestine Draw in Landmark West Bank Game

Saudi, Palestine Draw in Landmark West Bank Game

Tuesday, 15 October, 2019 - 17:30
Saudi Arabia and Palestine play to a draw in the West Bank. (SPA)

Saudi Arabia's football team played Palestine in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for the first time Tuesday, having previously refused to enter the territory as part of its boycott of Israel.

The two met in a qualifier for the 2022 World Cup at the Palestinian national stadium in Al-Ram, playing out a 0-0 draw, reported AFP.

Cheered on by a packed and vociferous home stadium, Palestine frustrated their guests and came close multiple times, but neither side were ultimately able to make the breakthrough.

With significant excitement over the match, all tickets at the 8,000 stadium were given away free on the day, with thousands in often disorderly queues to get in.

Hundreds of others watched from windows or roofs of buildings overlooking the stadium, which is only a few meters from the Israeli barrier that cuts off the West Bank from Jerusalem.

Arab clubs and national teams have historically refused to play in the Palestinian territory -- occupied by Israel since 1967 -- as it requires obtaining entry permits from Israel, a country most of them do not recognize.

The Palestinian football association described the Saudi team's arrival in the Palestinian territories as a "win-win" situation.

Lebanon, Syria and Egypt still refuse to play in the Palestinian territories.

But other countries such as Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Oman have sent their clubs and teams to play in the West Bank.

At the stadium, large Palestinian and Saudi flags had been erected on the building behind it.

"God, Palestine and Jerusalem is Arab," the fans chanted, with the stadium only a few miles from the holy city.

Israel seized control of east Jerusalem in a 1967 war, but Palestinians consider it the capital of their future state.

There were no Saudi fans at the stadium but pictures of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were erected alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasser Arafat.

Palestinians in the West Bank have to go through Israeli checkpoints to leave and many have little experience of the wider Middle East.

Only one of the players in the first 11 was from Gaza, the other part of the Palestinian territories under a blockade by Israel.

The winners of the two cups in the West Bank and Gaza are meant to play each other annually but this year it has been delayed for months after Israel refused permits to most of the Gazan team's players.

The Palestinians had the first real chance, with striker Saleh Chihadeh hitting the keeper in the 10th minute.

The Saudis could have scored as well in the first half but Yahya Al-Shehri's strike was well saved.

In a second half short of chances, Palestinian substitute Khaled Salem flicked a shot over the bar in the final minutes.

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