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Israel bars footballers from leaving Gaza for West Bank match

The Israeli authorities have stopped several players from Gaza's Ittihad Al-Shejaiya football team from leaving the Gaza Strip via Israel's Erez border crossing to play a scheduled match in the occupied West Bank.

Ittihad al-Shejaiya is slated to play the final match of the Palestinian Football Cup against West Bank-based football club Ahli Al-Khalil on Sunday.

In a Friday statement, Ittihad al-Shejaiya said its members would not leave the blockaded strip until the entire team was allowed out of the coastal territory.

Earlier this week, Ahli al-Khalil players entered the Gaza Strip for the first time in 15 years for a scheduled match with Ittihad Al-Shejaiya.

Due to the Israeli travel hindrances, however, the match – which ended in a goalless draw – was postponed until Thursday.

Thursday's final was the first Palestinian match to be played in the Gaza Strip since 2000, when the Second Intifada – a Palestinian popular uprising – erupted against Israel's decades-long occupation.

Although the uprising ended some five years later, the Gaza Strip has continued to groan under a tight Israeli-Egyptian blockade – first imposed in 2007 – that has deprived the enclave's roughly two million inhabitants of most basic needs, including food and medicine.

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