Palestinian player refuses Barça invitation

Palestinian player refuses Barça invitation

GAZA CITY - Agence France-Presse
A Palestinian footballer who went on a hunger strike in an Israeli jail said yesterday he is turning down an invitation to see Barcelona play Real Madrid after an Israeli soldier was also asked to attend.

Mahmoud Sarsak, who went on hunger strike earlier this year to protest his detention without charge by Israel, was invited to the match by Barcelona, after they also extended an invitation to Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held captive in Gaza for more than five years.

“I apologize to the fans and to the management of the club for not attending because of the invitation to Gilad Shalit,” Sarsak told a news conference at the headquarters of the Red Cross in Gaza City.

Last week, Barcelona said it had agreed to invite Shalit, a football fan, to the game against Real Madrid, drawing the ire of Palestinian groups. The next day, the Catalan club said it had also invited the president of the Palestinian football federation, Jibril Rajub, the Palestinian envoy to Spain, and Sarsak to the clash.

Sarsak initially said he would consider attending the game, if he was granted permission by the Palestinian Authority, and so long as he was not seated next to Shalit.

But yesterday, Sarsak said it would be unacceptable for him to attend a game along with Shalit.
“The invitation to Gilad Shalit suggests an equivalence between the Zionist executioner and the Palestinian victim, and means I cannot attend,” he said. “There is a difference between a person arrested with his weapon, in military uniform from inside his tank and the arrest of an athlete at a crossing who was on his way to a professional sports club in the West Bank.”

Shalit was captured by Gaza-based Palestinian militants in a 2006 cross-border raid and held incommunicado until October 2011, when he was released as part of a prisoner exchange that saw Israel free 1,027 Palestinians.

Sarsak was arrested in July 2009 while on his way from Gaza to sign for a West Bank club and was held without charge by Israel.

Barcelona meets Benfica


Five days before an always-intense match against Real Madrid, Barcelona can take a big step toward the knockout round of the Champions League when it visits Benfica today.

Barcelona matched its best Spanish league start with a comeback 3-2 win at Sevilla, and coach Tito Vilanova wants his team to focus on the Portuguese club and not be distracted by Madrid’s visit to the Camp Nou on Oct. 7.

“The game in the Champions League will be more complicated than the game against Madrid,” Vilanova said. “This game is not a moment to hold something back. Benfica is an important team. (Last season) they deserved to move past Chelsea, which then went on to win the tournament.”
The game will be officiated by Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakır.

Spartak Moscow hosts Celtic in the other Group G match.

Barcelona leads the group with three points. Celtic and Benfica are second with one point each.