Saudi-Iraq football match in Basra kicks off new era

Iraqi national football team players take part in a training session on Feb. 27, 2018 in the city of Basra a day ahead of their friendly match against Saudi (Arabia.Haidarr Mohammed Ali/AFP)
Updated 28 February 2018
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Saudi-Iraq football match in Basra kicks off new era

Saudi Arabia will today play their first football match in Iraq for almost four decades in a historic meeting in Basra.

The game in the 60,000-seat stadium in Basra Sports City sends a defiant message after the defeat of Daesh and highlights Saudi Arabia’s rapidly improving relations with Baghdad.

The match is also of great importance for Iraqi football. The friendly is a rare international played on Iraqi soil. The country has not played full internationals at home since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The last time the two teams met in Iraq was in Baghdad in April 1979. Iran was in the throes of its revolution, and in little over a year Iraq was plunged into the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war.

In Basra, a mood of excitement has swept the city with the arrival of the Green Falcons, who have qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

“For us, seeing Arab teams play in Basra was a dream,” Ammar Kitan, 56, who works for the city council, told AFP.

This dream “is not only important for Basra but for all Iraq,” said Ahmed Massoud, a 25-year-old student, because “this match against a team that goes to the World Cup will help lift the (FIFA) ban and prove that the city is safe.”

Former Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira told Arab News that the match represents a “very important moment” for football in the country.

“Saudi Arabia is a big, influential country in the region — both in football and politics — and their national team is very well respected.

“This kind of match against a strong team like Saudi Arabia will raise the profile and hopefully help FIFA see that competitive matches should be considered again.”

The authorities have said they will hand out hundreds of Saudi green flags in the run-up to kick-off.

Residents of the city have also launched a social media campaign welcoming the Saudi players called “Greens, you’re at home!”

For the Saudi team, coming from a 3-0 win against Moldova in Jeddah on Monday, the match will offer the chance to right the wrongs of 39 years ago. That match ended with a 2-0 victory for Iraq.


UN, Palestinians launch humanitarian appeal after funding cuts

Updated 17 December 2018
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UN, Palestinians launch humanitarian appeal after funding cuts

  • The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan outlined 203 projects to be carried out by 88 different groups
  • The plan prioritized 1.4 million Palestinians most in need of food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation

JERUSALEM: The United Nations and the Palestinian Authority on Monday appealed for $350 million in humanitarian relief for Palestinians next year, saying that they needed more but had to be realistic in the face of “record-low” funding.
The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan outlined 203 projects to be carried out by 88 different groups, including UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.
The plan prioritized 1.4 million Palestinians most in need of food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation, said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“Humanitarian actors are facing unprecedented challenges, including record-low funding and a rise in attacks to delegitimize humanitarian action,” he said in a joint statement issued on Monday, ahead of the appeal’s launch in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Although “much more assistance is needed,” McGoldrick said, the plan was “reflecting what we can realistically accomplish in this highly constrained context.”
Over the past year, the United States has slashed its funding to the Palestinians, including to the UN agency that provides services to 5 million Palestinian refugees.
The United States promised $365 million to the agency in 2018, but paid only a first instalment of $60 million before announcing in August that it would halt all future donations.
The move was widely seen as a means of pressuring the Palestinian leadership to enter peace negotiations with Israel.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — territories that Israel captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
US-brokered peace talks between the sides collapsed in 2014 and a bid by US President Donald Trump to restart them has so far showed little progress.
Around 77 percent of the funds sought in the 2019 plan would go to Gaza, the appeal organizers said, because the densely populated coastal strip faced a “dire humanitarian situation” after years of an Israeli-led blockade, internal Palestinian political divisions and casualties from demonstrations and recurring hostilities.
“The humanitarian context in the oPt (Occupied Palestinian Territories) is still deteriorating due to the Israeli occupation violations in a time of lack of resources and declining funds because of the politicization of the humanitarian aid,” Palestinian Social Development Minister Ibrahim Al-Shaer said in the statement.