GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hundreds of fans gathered Sunday at a sports arena in Gaza City, which Qatar has set up for Palestinian residents of the impoverished territory to watch World Cup matches for free.
Fans watched intently on the big screen as the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador began.
The event was a gesture by the Qatari Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, an arm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the wealthy Arabian Peninsula state. Through the committee, Qatar has channeled more than $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 the ambition to go to Qatar, see the stadiums and the players on the field, but the conditions in Gaza don’t allow it,” said Emran al-Shawa, a Gaza resident.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza when the Hamas militant 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 couldn’t go to Qatar and watch the World Cup because of the siege first, the economic situation second. Many things prevent us from going there to attend the matches, but the main factor that prevented us from going there is the (Israeli) occupation and their siege,” said another fan, Anas Snounou.