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Qatar World Cup 2022: Morocco fans latest to unfurl 'Free Palestine' banner

Fans of Atlas Lions raised flag referencing Nakba in 48th minute of their stunning victory over Belgium
Morocco fans cheer during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group F football match between Belgium and Morocco at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on 27 November 2022 (AFP)
Morocco fans cheer during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group F football match between Belgium and Morocco at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on 27 November 2022 (AFP)

Moroccan football fans unfurled a "Free Palestine" banner in the 48th minute of their stunning 2-0 Qatar World Cup victory against over Belgium on Sunday.

The Atlas Lions, ranked 22nd in the global rankings, beat the team ranked second in a pulsating Group F match at Doha's Al-Thumama Stadium, inching closer to qualifying for the knockout stages.

On Saturday, Tunisian fans also unfurled a "Free Palestine" flag at exactly the same time during their World Cup match against Australia, which they went on to lose 1-0.

The 48th minute is a reference to what is known by Arabs as the 1948 Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by Zionist militias

Despite Palestine not qualifying for the tournament, which is being held in the Middle East for the first time, its national flag has become a ubiquitous symbol throughout the event.

Moroccan, Tunisian and other Arab footballing fans have made a point of displaying Palestinian flags and wearing Palestinian shawls over their shoulders.

Before Sunday's match, Moroccan fans in Doha's Souq Waqif were seen wearing the keffiyeh and chanting in support of Palestine.

In one widely shared video from the tournament, an Egyptian fan, smiling, leans into the camera of an Israeli broadcaster and says: "Viva Palestine."

In December 2020, Morocco became the fourth Arab country to normalise ties with Israel, a deal brokered by then-US President Donald Trump.

In return for following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in creating full diplomatic relations with Israel, the United States recognised Morocco's sovereignty in Western Sahara.

The Morocco normalisation deal was condemned by many as a great loss for the Sahrawis of Western Sahara and Palestinians alike.

Third major win

The Sunday result was the third major win for Middle East and North African nations at this year's World Cup, after Saudi Arabia beat Argentina and Iran beat Wales.

Qatar is the only Middle Eastern team to be knocked out of the tournament so far after losing their two opening matches.

Iran, with three points so far, will play the US on Tuesday with a place in the last 16 at stake. A win for Iran would see them through, while a draw could also be enough for them to advance.

Saudi Arabia will be in a similar position when they play Mexico on Wednesday.

Tunisia - playing on the same day but with just one point after two matches - faces the toughest challenge to advance as they need a win over champions France.

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