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Israeli national team arrives in Kosovo for soccer game under tight security measures

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Israel’s national soccer team arrived in Kosovo on Friday amid tight security measures at the airport ahead of a postponed European Championship qualifier.

The team’s two buses were accompanied by several police vehicles and armed officers as it left the airport.

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There was also tight security at the hotel where the team was staying ahead of Sunday’s game. Police officers created a security perimeter at the hotel that the public and journalists were not allowed to cross.

The Israeli soccer federation posted video on X, formerly known as Twitter, showing players getting off the team bus on its way to the airport in Israel to take cover by the roadside, apparently amid nearby rocket fire.

The Israeli soccer team arrived in Kosovo with a heavy security presence for their first match since the commencement of hostilities in Gaza.

“Nothing will stop us on our way to Euro 2024,” the federation wrote.

It is the first match Israel plays since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and the ongoing war in Gaza. It had originally been scheduled for Oct. 15.

Israel is third in Group I of Euro 2024 qualifying, behind Romania and Switzerland but with two games in hand. It has never qualified for a European Championship since joining UEFA in 1994, and will now have to play four games in 10 days as it seeks to do so.

Kosovo and Israel decided to establish diplomatic ties at a Kosovo-Serbia summit in the United States, held at the White House in September 2020 by then-U.S. President Donald Trump.

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Kosovo was the first European country, and the first country with a Muslim majority, to establish its embassy in Jerusalem instead of Tel Aviv, following the U.S. and Guatemala.

Israel is the most recent country to have recognized Kosovo after Pristina’s Parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

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