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Palestinian arrested for waving Yemeni flag during Saudi Arabia-Palestine football match

Ahmad al-Yumni was arrested as the PA increased security to protect a Saudi delegation to the West Bank
Ahmad al-Yumni held a Yemeni flag with the hashtag ;from Palestine, here is Yemen' emblazoned on it (MEE/Hisham Abu Shaqra)
By Shatha Hammad in Al-Ram, occupied West Bank

The Palestinian Authority arrested a football fan for protesting against the war in Yemen during Tuesday's dual World Cup-Asian Cup qualifier between Saudi Arabia and Palestine in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. 

Ahmad al-Yumni, a 24-year-old construction worker from Hebron, was detained after he unravelled a Yemeni flag during the match, which marked the first official visit of Saudi citizens in the West Bank since the beginning of the Israeli occupation. The match ended in a draw, with neither team scoring.

Kayed al-Yumni confirmed to Middle East Eye that his brother Ahmad was pulled from the crowd after hoisting the Yemeni flag emblazoned with the slogan "From Palestine, here is Yemen."

"My family was not able to see him, know about the details of his detention or where he was detained until a day later," Yumni's brother told MEE.

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"The security services told us that he would be freed in return for 1,000 Jordanian dinars ($1,410)."

Kayed added that Yumni was released from Israeli prisons a year ago after being detained for two years. He remained in detention at the time of publication.

Yumni's arrest came after the Saudi delegation's visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed East Jerusalem provoked Palestinian anger on Monday. 

Saudi football team's first Palestinian visit met with anger at Al-Aqsa
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Some 3,500 PA security officers were mobilised on Tuesday to protect the Saudi delegation and prevent any Palestinians from protesting against Saudi Arabia during the game, according to local media outlets. 

Attendees at the game told Dar al-Hayat newspaper that plainclothes police personnel had been planted within the crowd to prevent fans from holding up placards or making chants against Saudi Arabia. 

The Saudi visit is seen by Palestinians as the latest proof that the Gulf kingdom is abandoning what used to be an Arab consensus in favour of a boycott of Israel and pushing for a normalisation of ties with Israel.

Although the delegation did not visit Israel, all visas and border crossings to entered the occupied Palestinian territories are under Israeli control.

Political analyst Abd al-Sattar Qassem told MEE that the Saudi delegation's visit reflected Riyadh's support for US President Donald Trump's so-called "deal of the century" plan for Israel and Palestine. 

"This visit can only be seen as a reflection of the change in political tide and attempts by Saudi individuals to extend normalisation with Israel," Qassem said. "Saudi Arabia is progressively normalising with Israel, and this visit is simply a prelude to the establishment of diplomatic relations, as sought by the rest of the Gulf states."

Unprecedented visit

Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Football Federation and a former head of the Palestinian Preventive Security forces, noted in a speech on Sunday that the visit was unprecedented in the history of Palestinian football. 

“Politically, it is a culmination of a steady effort, investment and policy by Saudi Arabia since the beginning of our cause and the start of our revolution,” Rajoub said. 

But while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the arrival of the Saudi delegation “a pleasure for the Palestinian people”, many Palestinians believe the visit is purely political.

In 2015, the Saudi Football Federation had refused to hold a match against the Palestinian national team in Jerusalem for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers, in order to comply with the Arab League’s boycott of Israel.

In the four years since, Saudi Arabia has come out in support of Trump’s controversial “deal of the century”, despite it being strongly rejected by all Palestinian political organisations for its strong bias in favour of Israel and for failing to guarantee Palestinian sovereignty.

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