Celtic fans wave Palestinian flags at Barcelona match

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Supporters of Scottish football team Celtic raised Palestinian flags when Barcelona came to play on their pitch this week, in a show of support for the Palestinian cause.

The flag-bearers took advantage of Barca’s presence when it was reported in September that the club had invited Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to its match against Real Madrid.

Pro-Palestine football fans in Europe frequently attend matches brandishing the Palestinian flag.

The Spanish football league heavyweight denied the invitation but said it accepted a request by him to watch the game during his visit to Barcelona. The club said that it had contributed to the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

To redress the balance, Barcelona invited Mahmoud Sarsak, a former Palestinian soccer player who was released from an Israeli jail in July where he was held for three years without charge, Palestinian sports champion Jibril Rajoub, and another representative.

“The club did not invite Mr. Shalit to the game, but accepted a request to watch a match during his visit to Barcelona ... In the same manner ... the club has also accepted the Palestinian embassy’s request to extend three invitations to three Palestinian delegates,” the club said on its website.

“Barcelona has always wanted to promote peace and harmony in the Middle East.”

Shalit was held by his captors in solitary confinement in the Gaza Strip that is ruled by Islamist faction Hamas until his release last October. He was discharged earlier this year and has been seen at many Israeli sports events.

In 2009, Scottish trade unions called on supporters of Celtic soccer club to wave Palestinian flags at their Europa League home match on Wednesday against Hapoel Tel Aviv in "solidarity with suffering Palestinians".

But the Glasgow club, whose fans often wave Irish flags because of their historic ties with Ireland and the Roman Catholic community, urged their supporters to ignore the call.
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