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FC Barcelona to Visit Israel and Palestinian Authority

Barcelona team members to hold sporting workshops for Israeli and PA Arab children in August.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 5/23/2013, 5:16 AM

Soccer (illustrative)
Soccer (illustrative)
Flash 90

Lionel Messi and his Barcelona teammates will take part in a Middle Eastern tour in August that will include sporting workshops for both Israeli and Palestinian Authority Arab children, AFP reported on Wednesday.

"FC Barcelona, with the help of the Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority, will organize in August the Barcelona Peace Tour, an initiative that will include two sporting events for peace in which children from Israel and Palestine will participate and in which all FC Barcelona players will be present," said a statement on the club's website quoted by AFP.

"This project has been made possible thanks to the immeasurable collaboration of the Israeli and Palestinian governments,” the statement said.

"FC Barcelona has become a point of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. The Barcelona foundation has organized sporting events with the children and young people of both communities in the past and it will continue to do so in a persistent effort for peace, freedom and democracy," the statement said, according to AFP.

The workshops will take place on the third and fourth of August.

In February, Barcelona president Sandro Rosell suggested a soccer match between Israel and the PA with players from both sides of the conflict as a step towards Middle East peace.

"The idea is to help the two peoples to reach peace with a meeting in which Barcelona stars and players from the two sides would take part," Rosell explained as he visited Israel and the PA.

The head of the Palestinian Authority’s soccer federation, Jibril Rajoub, said however that it was "too soon" for a match against Israel, although he praised the idea.

"This idea would cause a quake in the region if it were to take place, but it is too soon and the ball is in the Israeli camp," said Rajoub.

"The conditions are not ready for this idea. Israel does not even recognize us as a sporting entity," he added.

Several months ago Hamas reacted furiously after the Barcelona soccer team invited Gilad Shalit to attend a Barcelona-Real Madrid derby, demanding that FC Barcelona keep him away, and urging Muslim media not to broadcast the game if the Israeli attended.

"We call on all Muslim, Arab and Palestinian media not to broadcast this game if Shalit attends," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

"FC Barcelona's invitation to the criminal Shalit so they can pay homage to him is an offence to sentiments of the Palestinian people and to Arabs and Muslims, because Shalit is an Israeli soldier who was on a tank taking part in the killing of Palestinian civilians when he was captured (in 2006)," he said.

PA soccer player Mahmoud Sarsak later said he would attend the derby, but not in the same stand as Gilad Shalit. Sarsak had been imprisoned in an Israeli jail on terrorism charges and was freed and returned to his home in Gaza after observing a hunger strike of nearly three months.

Rajoub, a senior PA official, himself in the past supported an Arab boycott of the Adidas company, because of the sponsorship it gave to the Jerusalem Marathon.

He recently praised the use of violence against Israel and said that “if we had a nuke, we'd have used it this very morning.”