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Palestinians fly flag in emotional World Cup qualifier

Palestinian flags and the black-and-white keffiyeh scarf flew high in Kuwait’s Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium as football fans vented their emotions in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

Thousands of Palestinians and their sympathisers turned out at the 60,000-seat venue for the game against Australia, Palestine’s first in front of fans since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

“Palestine is in our hearts. We came to the stadium, old and young, in support,” Anfal Al-Azmi, a 45-year-old Kuwaiti woman, told AFP.

Defender Harry Souttar’s 18th-minute goal was all that separated the teams in a 1-0 win for Australia where the action on the pitch was almost incidental.

It unfolded about six weeks after Palestinian Hamas militants killed 1,200 people and took around 240 hostages, Israeli officials say, in an attack launched from the Gaza Strip on October 7.

Israel, vowing to destroy Hamas, has unleashed a ferocious air and ground assault on Gaza in response, killing more than 13,300 people according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

“We do not care about the match. We came to deliver a message,” said Wael Youssef Labbad, 40, a Palestinian from Ashkelon.

“We, the Palestinian people, are always present with the keffiyeh and the flag.”

Palestine’s red, black, white and green flag was ubiquitous at the game — which shifted from Ramallah in the West Bank because of the war — and many fans twirled the distinctive keffiyehs as they chanted.

Others held up “Free Gaza” banners and pictures of keys, symbolising the homes lost by Palestinians during the 1948 creation of Israel.

Australia’s players will donate a portion of their match fee to humanitarian operations in Gaza, whose situation was described as “horrific” by visiting coach Graham Arnold.

Not all the fans were Palestinian, with many coming from other communities in the oil-rich Gulf country.

“Kuwait and Palestine are one. Today we are guests of Palestine in their land,” said Kuwaiti Ahmed Al-Anezi, 36, who was draped in the Palestinian flag and wore a keffiyeh.

“Today I and my entire family came to provide support to the Palestinian people and to consolidate the first Arab cause in the souls of my children.”

Syrian university student Yahya Shaher, 18, said: “We are here to support our brothers. We are one and victory is ours.”

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