Field artillery | Bombings in kibbutz and Gaza represent new pitch invasion

The result of the Apr 1 aerial attack. The capacity of Palestine Stadium is reported to be between 10,000 and 15,000. Other stadiums in Gaza are Jareco and Yarmouk; the stadia also host political and cultural events. (Hatem Moussa | AP)

Gaza City, Palestinian Authority | Some of the most contested, densely populated land on earth offers little space for football on grass. Even less so now that a massive crater remains near the center of the Palestine national stadium in Gaza City, the result of an Israel Defense Forces bomb attack on Apr 1. On Tuesday, FIFA announced that it would “rehabilitate” the field at its expense following a FIFA deputy general secretary’s uncharacteristically strong comdemnation of the reprisal attack.

“Hitting a football stadium is absolutely counterproductive for peace,” Jérôme Champagne told the Jerusalem Post, expanding his criticisms to include the system of Israeli security checkpoints that he says has hindered development of a domestic Palestinian league. “It is not right to occupy a people.”

FIFA’s comments have energized conservative commentators in the United States, who ask why, on this occasion, the nominally apolitical sporting body has come down harshly on the Israelis. Tom Gross, writing on the National Review website, questions FIFA’s apparent lack of response to a rocket aimed two days earlier at a kibbutz soccer field near the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon. The rockets were launched from Palestinian territory on Mar 30.

[O]ne of those Qassam rockets landed on a soccer field at the Karmiya kibbutz in southern Israel, causing light injuries to one person. Several other Israeli children and adults needed to be treated for shock. … The soccer pitch is regularly used by children and it was only a matter of luck that there were not greater injuries.

Despite suggestions that Palestinian militants were using the Gaza field to launch their homemade missiles, comments from the Israel Defense Forces later made clear that the Israeli action should be seen as a symbolic tit-for-tat. “Knowing the terrorism was unpopulated, artillery fire from Israel was fired directly at it,” said an IDF spokesman. “The terrorism is coming from within them, and they need to know that they are the ones suffering.” Since the beginning of April, Israel has fired more than 2,000 artillery shells into northern Gaza with the possibility of an Israeli invasion looming. Palestinians have launched more than 70 rockets.

Ronaldo, under auspices of the Palestinian Football Association, visited the region in May 2005. Locals were proud that he donned the native kufiyya. (PFA)

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