Israel youth delegation returns from Qatar with handball tournament trophy
An Israeli sports delegation consisting of two youth high school teams and sponsored by the ministry of education, returned from Qatar on Thursday with a third place trophy in the World Handball Championship for Schools, held in Doha.
“The delegation was received in Qatar by the Organizing Committee and participants with great respect and warmth, Israel’s Ministry of Education said in a statement offering a hero’s welcome as the 35-member delegation returned home Thursday.
"The organizing committee provided the Israeli delegation with excellent accommodation conditions, and they did everything in their power to entertain the Israelis in the best possible way. The delegation was secure, and all the arrangements were exemplary,” the statement added.
Nevertheless Israel’s attendance in the Arab country was not welcomed by all, as some took to social media to call on Qataris to withdraw their children from the international tournament for students aged 15 to 18, played since the early 1970s.
It was not the first time Israeli athletes competed in Qatar, but the ministry said that "it was the first time a student delegation participated in such a competition on Qatari soil."
Their participation brought renewed scrutiny to Doha's foreign policy eight months into a diplomatic crisis with its Arab neighbors.
On Twitter, users claiming to be Qataris accused Doha of trying to normalize relations with Israel.
"I ask all parents to withdraw their children and prevent them from participating in this normalization of relations," one user wrote in Arabic.
"Now it is the time to speak to your children about Palestine."
Another tweeted that the tournament was "recognition of an occupier".
The Twitter account QAYON (Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalization) for its part launched the hashtag: "Students of Qatar against normalisation", gaining coverage from Doha's own Al-Jazeera Arabic satellite network.
The campaign even garnered praise from a prominent Emirati professor tweeting from the rival United Arab Emirates -- where expressions of sympathy toward Qatar can be a punishable offense.
It is not known whether the tweets critical of Doha actually originated from Qatar.
The head of delegation office from the education ministry also noted that “when Israel defeated Poland, the Qatari crowd cheered for Israel,” seemingly making reference to the rift over Poland’s new Holocaust law.
(Staff with AFP)
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