Palestinian goalkeeper is finally allowed home

Thu Dec 16, 2010 5:52pm EST
 
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Asem Abu Assi, the goalkeeper of Palestinian league side Jabel al-Mukabar, rejoined his teammates in the occupied West Bank three months late on Thursday because Israel withheld his permit to return from a family visit.

Abu Assi, who lives in the West Bank, went to Gaza in August to see his wife and son and planned to return for the start of the league season in September -- but needed an Israeli travel permit that was denied him.

"For the past three months I worried I might never be able to rejoin my club, but at last I got the permit. I am back now and I will begin training with my team tomorrow," the 28-year-old told Reuters.

Israel Radio said it had intervened with Israeli authorities to allow him to leave the Gaza Strip.

Israel maintains a blockade of the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, and allows few of its people to leave because the coastal enclave is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel has in the past drawn criticism from world soccer's governing body, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee for denying Palestinian national team players free passage out of Gaza to represent Palestine in international fixtures.

(Editing by Ori Lewis ands Tim Pearce)