Palestinian football player released by Israel


Israel released a member of the Palestinian national soccer team yesterday after holding him in jail without trial for three years, during which he staged an intermittent four-month hunger strike in protest, Palestinian officials said.

Mahmoud al-Sarsak (25), alleged by Israel to have been active in the Islamic Jihad militant group, received a hero’s welcome on his return home to Islamist-ruled Gaza.

Soccer legend Eric Cantona and other international figures had signed a letter drawing attention to Sarsak’s plight. Sepp Blatter, president of world soccer’s governing body Fifa, also wrote to the Israeli soccer authorities to seek their help.

Islamic Jihad gunmen fired into the air and fellow athletes crowded around – thrusting a soccer ball into his hands – as Sarsak was admitted to hospital in Gaza. “I thank God and all the athletes of the world,” Sarsak said.

Israel had detained Sarsak in 2009 when he left Gaza to play soccer in the occupied West Bank. Israel said he belonged to Islamic Jihad, a group involved in lethal attacks against it. He denied the allegation. – (Reuters)