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Ahli al-Khalil wins first West Bank-Gaza showdown in 15 years

Aug. 15, 2015 10:09 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 15, 2015 3:20 P.M.)
Gaza Strip's Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh's players (in green) and Hebron's Ahli al-Khalil's players pose before their match for the Palestine Cup final. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
HEBRON (AFP) -- The occupied West Bank's Ahli al-Khalil football team emerged triumphant Friday in a dramatic finish to the first footballing showdown in 15 years with a team from Israeli-blockaded Gaza to be proclaimed Palestinian champions.

Before a vociferous and flag-waving crowd at Ahli al-Khalil's packed stadium in the occupied town of Hebron, a goal from a direct free kick in the second minute of stoppage time broke a deadlock between the champions of their respective territories.

In a first leg in the Gaza Strip, Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh and Ahli al-Khalil played out a goalless draw on August 6 and the two sides were locked in a 1-1 draw in Hebron before the red-and-black striped West Bank club finally triumphed 2-1.

Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh were sportingly cheered at the start and finish of the encounter even though the thousands of Hebron spectators drowned out the modest 35-member delegation of players and staff that Israel allowed to cross its territory and travel to the West Bank for the historic match.

Ahli al-Khalil will now represent Palestine, a member of football's world governing body FIFA since 1998, in international competitions.

Israel strictly controls the Gaza border, and the second leg, originally scheduled for last Sunday, had been postponed over a dispute involving security checks on some of the Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh players.

Gaza, ruled by Hamas, is separated from the West Bank by 60 kilometers (36 miles) of Israeli territory as well as politics.

West Bank and Gaza Strip teams play in separate leagues, in which Ahli al-Khalil and Ittihad al-Shujaiyeh are the current champions.

The showdown was seen as a symbolic victory over both the bitter political divisions within Palestinian ranks and Israel's blockade.

Israel's devastating offensive in Gaza last summer killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 73 people on the Israeli side.
Mel / UK
Bravo to ALL Palestinian players wherever they are from. Stay united Palestine! Sumud for extra time!
15/08/2015 12:14
Qasim / Egypt
Everyone of them is a winner, everyone a champion.
16/08/2015 00:42
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