With Gaza in their hearts, Palestinian squad seek first win at Asian Cup

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With Gaza in their hearts, Palestinian squad seek first win at Asian Cup

Palestine will be aiming for their first-ever win at the Asian Cup.
Palestine will be aiming for their first-ever win at the Asian Cup.Reuters
The Palestinian squad at the Asian Cup in Qatar hope to bring honour to their compatriots in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip with their first victory at the tournament since the team's debut in 2015.

Israel has killed more than 23,000 people in its more than three-month-old offensive, according to Palestinian health authorities in the Hamas-ruled enclave.

"For us, the message we are here to deliver through football is to qualify for the second round because Palestine and its people want to live. This is what we can offer," midfielder Oday Kharoub told Reuters on Thursday.

The 26-member squad play Asian powerhouse Iran on Sunday followed by the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong, hoping to advance to the knockout stage.

Israel launched its campaign in Gaza after a cross-border rampage on October 7 by Hamas militants in which Israeli officials said 1,200 people were killed, mainly civilians, and 240 taken hostage back to Gaza.

Kharoub said it has been difficult for players, especially those with families in Gaza, to focus on training when their eyes are glued to the news between sessions, keenly following what is happening back home.

"Our hearts are with them and we can only pray for them," Kharoub said. "Inshallah, we can make them happy, even if it's just a little bit, by qualifying for the next round. This is our ambition."

Defender Mousa Farawi said they have steeled themselves to play in high spirits despite the situation in Gaza.

"The group we have is really special, so we hope for God to give us good fortune and give each player the bravery to deliver on a high level. I see Palestine in the second round, God willing."

Defender Yaser Hamed said: "The whole team is motivated with what's happening in Palestine, it's a difficult time for all families. But we're professional players, we should keep it up the same way as we've been working in the last few weeks."

Israel were once Asian Cup champions when they hosted the tournament in 1964. But amid political tension and boycotts by Middle East nations, Israel made the switch to European confederation UEFA in 1994.

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