Saudi to play Palestine in landmark West Bank game

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


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

The two will meet in a qualifier for the 2022 World Cup at 4:00 pm (1300 GMT) at the Palestinian national stadium in Al-Ram, a part of the West Bank close to Jerusalem but cut off from the city by an Israeli separation barrier.

Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub said Monday they expected the game, at the 8,000 capacity Faisel Husseini stadium, to be a sell out.

About 300 journalists have registered to cover the match, according to Palestinian officials.

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

The game marks a change in policy for the kingdom, which has previously played matches against Palestine in third countries, in line with a decades-long Arab boycott of Israel.

However, in recent years, common concerns over Iran are widely seen as having brought Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Israel -- both staunch US allies -- closer together.

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

Some of the Saudi delegation visited the Al-Aqsa mosque in east Jerusalem on Monday.

Lebanon, Syria and even Egypt, which has a peace agreement with Israel, 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.

In a tight group, Saudi Arabia are currently top with four points from two games, while Palestine are fourth just a point back.