08.09.2015 21:23 h

Palestine hosts World Cup qualifier for first time

The Palestine football team played a World Cup qualifier at home for the first time on Tuesday, holding the United Arab Emirates to a goalless draw in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

About 14,000 spectators came to the Faisal Husseini stadium in Al-Ram, near Jerusalem, named after the late Palestinian politician.

The game was a qualifier both for the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup.

In the first half, Palestine supporters' hearts pounded when Sameh Meraaya got a shot at goal - but missed - and when their goalkeeper Tawfiq Ali blocked a free kick by the UAE's Ahmed Khalil.

Palestine supporter Hossam al-Khatib travelled over 70 kilometres (40 miles) to Al-Ram from his home in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

"Despite the difficult conditions, despite the occupation and the pressure under which the Palestinian people live, it's a huge joy to see the national team get this far," he told AFP.

Hanin Shatara from nearby Ramallah, said that she had to leave her car at an Israeli checkpoint as she neared Jerusalem and finished her journey on foot.

To advance in the competition Palestine will have to beat Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and East Timor.

Palestine thrashed Malaysia 6-0 in June.

The first leg against the Saudis ended with a 3-2 home win to the desert kingdom, after its team refused to travel to the West Bank, citing undefined "exceptional circumstances".

Palestinian Football Association officials said the Saudi decision could have been due to reluctance to pass through Israeli checkpoints on their way to the game.

Many Arab national teams refuse to do so, saying it "normalises" Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.

Palestinian FA chief Jibril Rajoub, who had at one point sought to have Israel suspended from FIFA over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players, said hosting the UAE showed that "Palestine exists and that Palestinians have the right to live in their own independent state".