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1ST LEAD Palestinian official: Israel prevents Olympic team chief leaving By Maher Abukhater, dpa

Europe
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Ramallah (dpa) - Israeli authorities have prevented the head of Palestinian Olympic team from leaving the Gaza Strip to be with his team in Brazil, a senior Palestinian official said on Tuesday.

Munther Masalmeh, secretary general of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, told dpa that Israel did not give Issam Qishta, the head of the team, a permit to leave Gaza in order to travel to Brazil to be with the rest of the Palestinian Olympic team.

"Israel did not give Issam Qishta a permit to leave Gaza and therefore he was not able to join the rest of the Olympic team in Brazil," he said. Two others also from Gaza, a trainer and the deputy head of the committee, were given permits, but not Qishta, he said.

Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said his government was working on allowing Qishta to join the rest of the Palestinian team.

"We do our best to let him leave as soon as possible," he told dpa.

Gaza residents need a permit from Israel to travel to the West Bank in order to reach Jordan from where they can travel abroad.

Gazans only other exit option is through Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is rarely open.

Masalmeh also said the Palestinian team had to purchase equipment and other things in Brazil after Israel had prevented entry of their equipment into the Palestinian areas.

Products and goods destined to the West Bank are shipped through Israeli ports. The West Bank is landlocked and Israel controls all its borders.

The Olympic official said Israel had been holding the equipment, mostly donated to the Palestinians by foreign governments, demanding payment of taxes or entry fees and sometimes under claims of security.

"We got one shipment several months ago and we have not been able to bring it in," he said. "We were forced to travel without our equipment and to buy them instead in Brazil."

The Palestinian Olympic team comprises 22 people, including six athletes, coaches and administrators. It includes two swimmers, two track and field athletes, a judo player and one equestrian competitor.

All the athletes were camped abroad for weeks and therefore were able to reach Brazil without problem, Masalmeh said.

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