Gaza war takes toll on Palestinian players: PFA official

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The Israel-Gaza war has disrupted preparations by the Palestinian team for their 2026 World Cup qualifier against Lebanon on Thursday, but the players are determined to put on a good showing, a team official and player said.

The match is being played in the neutral venue of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, because of the conflict.

It had originally been scheduled to be played in Beirut, with the Palestinians set to host Australia the following week, but Israel’s response to the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 forced officials to find new venues.

The Palestinians usually host games at Al-Ram’s Faisal Al-Husseini Stadium on the West Bank.

“Everything changed after Oct. 7 with the start of the conflict in Gaza,” Palestine Football Association (PFA) media manager Ahmed Rajoub told the National media outlet.

“All sporting activities stopped completely in Palestine, and the football team was forced to move to Jordan. The first real training for the national team took place on Monday in Sharjah four days ago.”

“We had some training sessions in Jordan, and in the absence of Gazan players, this was not enough to prepare for an ideal match in the qualifiers.”

Lebanon and the Palestinians meet at the Khalid bin Mohammed Stadium in the UAE before the latter take on Australia in Kuwait on Nov. 21.

Rajoub said the situation in Gaza was weighing heavily on the players.

“We just can’t get the players focused on the game when people are killed and injured every day since the conflict started,” he said.

“The players don’t talk about football, but about the war, and when they are in the room or the bus, they rush to follow the current events via their mobile phones to check on their families, relatives, and friends.

“But we want to say that despite all these issues and this difficult period, the players definitely want to win, no matter how hard it may be.”

Palestinian midfielder Mohammed Rashid said the team would give their best.

“It’s really hard to stay focused,” Rashid said. “I think there’s no choice for us to, for example, postpone the game; we have to play, so this is exactly why we’re here now.

“We want to show our best, and we want to show the whole world that we’re people, just like any other country, that we can exercise our rights to be free and play the beautiful game of football.”