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Israel detains Gaza's blind karate team trainer at Erez crossing

April 12, 2016 3:31 P.M. (Updated: April 12, 2016 5:28 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces on Monday detained the trainer of a Palestinian blind karate team as he and the team were returning to the Gaza Strip from an international tournament in Dubai through the Erez crossing.

Sources told Ma'an that Hasan al-Rae, 37, and five members of the al-Mashtal Club's blind karate team were detained while passing through the crossing.

The team was held for nine hours before they were allowed to move on into the blockaded coastal enclave, while their trainer, al-Rae, remained in Israeli custody.

The al-Mashtal Club in Gaza City has received international media attention in recent months for its efforts to use karate to give blind Palestinian children a sense of hope amid Gaza's deep poverty.

In an interview with UAE news site The National last year, al-Rae said that many blind Palestinian children initially joined the club hoping to learn to defend themselves, because "many of them face violence as others look at them as second-class citizens."

He said: "At first I have had to teach them that God may have made you blind, but you have other abilities -- everyone has huge powers inside them, and they're supposed to show the world that it's not a big deal to be blind."

According to The National, al-Rae has taught karate across the occupied Palestinian territory for 10 years, and has hopes to take competitors to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020.

The father of four formerly trained Palestinian Authority police forces in Gaza, and continued to receive a salary from the PA even after Hamas took power in the coastal enclave.

Palestinian sports players face severe movement restrictions by Israel, and restrictions on Palestinian football players led to a high-profile bid to ban Israel from FIFA last year, although PA officials backed down at the last minute.

Earlier this month, Palestinian runners from Gaza were denied permission to take part in a marathon in Bethlehem, and activists have recently put a spotlight on the case of a circus trainer, who specialized in working with disabled children, who was jailed without trial last December.
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