Feature: Football provides hope for amputees in Gaza

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-14 20:56:23|Editor: Yamei
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Palestinian amputees compete during a football match overseen by Irish coach Simon Baker, general secretary of the European Amputee Football Federation, in Gaza City, April 13, 2019. (Xinhua/Stringer)

GAZA, April 14 (Xinhua) -- Mohammed Eliwa, 17 years old from the Gaza Strip, plays football extraordinarily with only one leg.

Using metal crutches, Eliwa tackled the ball gently and headed toward the penalty kick to score a goal for his team during a local tournament which included six amputee teams.

The tournament is organized by the Palestine Association for Amputees and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), held in Gaza City's renowned Palestine Playground.

Eliwa lost his right leg in November last year after he was shot by Israeli troops during his participation in the ongoing weekly anti-Israel protests known as "the Great March of Return," which started on March 30 last year.

"I lost my right leg, but I never lost hope," Eliwa told Xinhua while leaning on his crutches.

The young boy said he has been practicing his life normally despite his disability, adding that "I'm doing what I love, which is playing football."

Eliwa said his participation in this tournament is a message that people with special needs have the will, determination and the dreams to live normally like sound people.

"My dream is to represent Palestine in international competitions," he said proudly.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, 136 Palestinians had amputations in lower or upper limbs after they were shot by Israeli soldiers during the weekly event.

Amputee football is a disabled sport played by seven players on each team. Outfield players have lower extremity amputation and goalkeepers have upper extremity amputation.

Outfield players use forearm crutches, and play without their prosthesis. Players may not use crutches to advance, control or block the ball. Such an action will be penalized in the same way as a handball infringement.

Games consist of two 25-minute halves with a one-minute rest period in between.

All the players of the six teams participating in the tournament have lost their limbs due to Israeli military operations in Gaza.

The players' outstanding performance proves that football is not exclusive to sound people.

Mohammed Kalloub, 30, one of the footballers, had his leg imputed after he was shot by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2011.

"The injury affected me negatively at first because I was isolated inside my house. I became unemployed," Kalloub told Xinhua after the game.

He added that practicing football has made him a different person, adding that it gave him kind of entertainment with friends and teammates on the pitch and off the field.

"I hope there will be a national team for amputee footballers to compete in Arab and international competitions," he said with smiles.

Over the past few days, Secretary General of World Amputee Football Federation Simon Baker has been training the six teams of the tournament.

Baker, who lost his right leg in a workplace accident in 2004 and uses an artificial limb, was invited by the ICRC to prepare for the tournament.

Suhair Zaqout, spokesperson for the ICRC in Gaza, said her organization is sponsoring people with disabilities caused by military conflicts and is attempting to integrate them into the society via psychological and physical rehabilitation.

"People with special needs can represent their countries in regional and international sports competitions," she told Xinhua.

According to official statistics, the Gaza Strip has over 25,000 injured people in the last 10 years, hundreds of whom suffer from amputations.

Israel imposes a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip, home to more than two million people, since mid-2007 after Islamic Hamas Movement seized control of the territory by force.

In addition to the blockade, Israel launched three major military operations against Gaza in the past 10 years, leaving thousands of Palestinians dead and injured.

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