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World Cup offers besieged Gazans great escape

The June 21, 2010, By Christopher Wood

Palestinians have always been avid football fans, but the tournament this year is drawing record numbers of fans to the flag decked cafes and bars, all powered with portable generators. There is little else to do in the isolated Gaza Strip. ; World Cup offers besieged Gazans great escape

"All the people of Gaza have are the sea and the World Cup," says Abu Mohammed al-Sultan, 44, setting up a projection screen at the cafe. "I figured I would combine the two and double my customers."

The Gaza strip is under severe siege by Egypt and Israel and only basic goods are allowed to cross the boarder, ever since the capture of an Israeli soldier in 2006. The already tight sanctions were tightened further when the Hamas terrorist organization seized power a year later. Israel has affirmed in the past that the closure and the naval blockade is necessary to keep the movement from importing weapons and rocket into the Strip.

The residents of the Gaza Strip organized their own World Cup last month, in preparation for the real thing, with 16 local football teams posing as national squads, with “France” beating “Jordan” to win the championship. "We are locked up in this little prison. So we are all looking for new interests, and the World Cup is a good way to enjoy ourselves," said Hisham, 30, as he watched Friday's 0-0 draw between England and Algeria.

The game, which featured the only Arab team to make the cut for the World Cup, drew an especially large crowd, including many women, who previously had little interest in sports.

The match, featuring the only Arab team to have qualified for the tournament, drew an especially large crowd, including many women who previously had little interest in sports.



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