In blockaded Gaza, World Cup fans watch from the sidelines

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hundreds of fans gathered at a sports hall in Gaza City on Sunday, which Qatar prepared for the Palestinian residents of the impoverished territory to watch the World Cup matches for free.

The fans looked attentively at the large screen as the opener game between Qatar and Ecuador kicked off.

The event was a gesture by the Qatar Committee for Reconstruction of Gaza, an arm of the wealthy Arabian Peninsula state’s foreign affairs ministry. Through the committee, Qatar has funneled over $1 billion since 2013 for major rehabilitation projects, including residential complexes, hospitals, and roads, as well as for post-war reconstruction.

“Like other countries, one had an ambition to go to Qatar, see the stadiums and players on the ground, but the conditions in Gaza doesn’t permit,” said Emran al-Shawa, a Gaza resident.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza when the militant Hamas group seized the territory in 2007. The blockade and wars with Israel have worsened living conditions in Gaza. Travel outside the densely populated territory is severely restricted.

“We could not go to Qatar and watch the World Cup because of the siege first, the economic condition second. Many things prevent us from going there to attend the matches, but the main factor that blocked us from going there is the (Israeli) occupation and its siege,” said another fan, Anas Snounou.

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