CAIRO - Facing angry Muslim and Palestinian fans, Spain's football giant FC Barcelona has denied extending an invitation to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit as a guest of honor to a derby game next month, saying it had contributed to the Middle East peace.
After multiple reports citing that the Israeli citizen Gilad Shalit will be at the Camp Nou for the ClÃ¡sico against Real Madrid, the Club wishes to express its desire to contribute to the ongoing peace process in the Middle East, the statement published on Thursday night, September 27, said.
The Club did not invite Mr. Shalit to the game, but accepted a request to watch a match during his visit to Barcelona.
Uproar followed reports that the football giant has extended a VIP invitation to Shalit, who was released last year after five years in captivity by Palestinian resistance group, to attend a derby match with Real Madrid on October 7.
Palestinians lamented that the Spanish football team is inviting an Israeli killer of Palestinian civilians.
The Spanish club confirmed that Shalit had been given the ticket to attend the derby game.
Yet, it added that a similar invitation was extended to three Palestinian delegates to attend the game.
In the same manner as Mr. Shalit's request was accepted, the Club has also accepted the Palestinian embassy's request to extend three invitations to three Palestinian delegates, the statement said.
Musa Amer Odeh, Palestinian Authority ambassador; Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Football Union, and the Palestinian footballer Mahmoud al-Sarsak will also watch the ClÃ¡sico at the Camp Nou.
The statement also underlined that Barcelona has always wanted to promote peace and harmony in the Middle East.
On July 21 of 2011, Mahmuod Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, was officially hosted at Club facilities during his visit to Barcelona,' it said.
On that occasion, Mr. Abbas thanked FC Barcelona for its hospitality,' and noted that BarÃ§a is a Club that represents a civilization and a group of people with a great set of values.
Despite Barcelona justifications, Palestinian fans were determinant on boycotting the giant football team.
"We will wait to see if Barcelona honor Gilad Shalit or not. So far, there are conflicting reports in the news, Mohammad Abu Seif, a Gazan Barcelona fan told 7M Sporting website on Friday, September 28.
If they do as a Palestinian I respect the issue of my country and I will stop watching the Spanish league.
Not just Barcelona, the whole of Spain will be responsible for what happened, he added.
Not only fans.
Palestinian footballers created a petition calling on FC Barcelona not to host Shalit.
We, Palestinian footballers, athletes and sporting organizations and officials, are dismayed to learn the great team of Barcelona will host Gilad Shalit to the Clasico, while more than 5000 Palestinian political prisoners remain rotting, many in isolation, many with no visits, many on hunger strike with no attention or care for them to be released, they said.
The petition, signed by key Palestinian clubs, players and fans associations, threatened boycotting Barcelona if they decided to host the Israeli soldier.
Just as the effective boycott of sports teams from the South African apartheid regime showed, sporting and political life cannot be separated, they said.
We ask you to not show solidarity with the army that oppresses, imprisons and kills Palestinian sportsmen and women in Palestine, and instead reach out to those Palestinian footballers with destroyed dreams and broken opportunities due entirely to the Israeli regime's apartheid policies against them.
Shalit was taken prisoner during a cross-border raid by Palestinian resistance groups in 2006.
Following his capture, Israel imposed a crippling siege on the Gaza Strip, home to 1.8 million Palestinians, badly affecting livelihood in the seaside enclave.
Israel also launched a three-week deadly offensive on Gaza, which left thousands of people killed and injured and destroyed thousands of houses.
Shalit was released last year under a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, under which more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were freed.