Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit was released from captivity in 2011 (Reuters)
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released from captivity in 2011 (Reuters) Reuters

Hamas has announced a media boycott of Barcelona following reports the La Liga leaders gave a ticket for an upcoming game to an Israeli soldier formerly held captive by militants in the Gaza Strip.

The four-time European champions confirmed they had given a ticket for their 7 October El Clasico game against Real Madrid to soldier Gilad Schalit,

Shalit was captured by Gaza militants in June 2006 and returned home in October 2011 under an Israel-Palestinian deal on prisoner exchange.

As part of the boycott, no TV station in Gaza will broadcast any Barcelona games, nor will any newspapers write about the Catalan giants, Hamas official Attallah Abu Al Subah said.

Hamas has the terrestrial Al-Aqsa TV channel that broadcasts the Spanish and English football leagues. It is widely watched by Palestinians of the Gaza strip.

A petition from anti-Israel activists called for Barcelona to withdraw their invitation to Shalit.

The petition from BDS Catalunya, a Barcelona-based group promoting boycotts of Israel, has so far been signed by more than 800 people.

It reads: "Since April, Gilad Shalit is no longer officially part of the Israeli army. However, in the eyes of the Catalan people and the world as a whole he still symbolically represents the Israel Defence Forces.

"We are also surprised to see your club express so much friendship and sympathy towards the only Israeli soldier to be imprisoned in recent years as a result of this conflict while, at the same time, maintaining absolute silence about the 4,660 Palestinian prisoners now confined in Israeli prisons."

FC Barcelona vice-president Carles Vilarrubí said: "Barcelona is a place of unity not divisions. This invitation does not indicate in any way that Barca takes a position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Since his release, Schalit, who writes a newspaper sports column, has spoken of how listening to sport reports on the radio helped him during his captivity.