June 28, 2018 / 4:31 PM / 5 months ago

Amputee soccer team a game changer for Gaza wounded

GAZA (Reuters) - A soccer team made up of Palestinians who lost limbs to Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip is giving its players new purpose.

Members of a Palestinian amputee football team, which is made up of players most of who lost their legs in the conflict with Israel, exercise on a soccer pitch in the central Gaza Strip June 21, 2018. Picture taken June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Players aged between 13 and 42 play eight-a-side intra-squad games. Most have only one leg and play on crutches.

“I was sitting home most of the time, sad. Now I am happy, have friends and we play,” said Ibrahim Khattab, 13, who lost his left leg during the 2014 war between Israel and Gaza militants when an Israeli missile struck while he was playing soccer outside his home.

“He was always desperate, now after he joined the soccer team, I see he has hope,” his father, Khaled, said. “He used to spend most of his time playing games on a tablet.”

Fouad Abu Ghalyoun, a member of the Palestinian paralympic committee, founded the team, having come up with the idea after a match last year between amputee squads from England and Turkey. Within five months, some 16 players had signed up.

“It was hard to convince those with amputated limps to come forward. Nowadays they are calling us to ask about exercise times,” said Abu Ghalyoun.

“Football is the beloved game of youth, so first it is entertaining and second ... (it) is a kind of psychological support,” he told Reuters.

The team’s coach, Khaled Al-Mabhouh, said the squad was still lacking sturdier crutches to replace regular ones that tend to break when a player puts weight on them during a match.

Some of the 54 Palestinians who had limbs amputated after being wounded by Israeli fire during recent protests along the Gaza-Israel border have expressed interest in joining the team.

At least 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during mass demonstrations since March 30, Gaza health officials said. On Thursday, Gaza officials said a 17-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by the Israeli army at the border. The Israeli military said troops fired at two would-be infiltrators.

Protesters are demanding a right of return to what is now Israel for those who fled or were forced to flee their homes in the war around its creation in 1948, and for millions of their descendants. Israel rules that out as demographic suicide.

Israel’s tactics in confronting the protests have drawn international condemnation. But support has come from its main ally, the United States, which like Israel has accused Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamist group of instigating violence and attempting to breach the border to carry out attacks.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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