Qalandia: French football icon Lilian Thuram, a star of France's 1998 World Cup victory, met young Palestinians on Monday at the start of a four-day visit to the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Founder of a foundation for "education against racism", Thuram gave a training session for his admirers at the Qalandia refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and visited a school run by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
"I have heard so much about the children of Palestine and about the environment they grow up in," he said. "Today I saw for myself their enthusiasm and determination to succeed against all the odds."
UNRWA spokesman Chris Guness said the visit was a great boost for the camp's youngsters.
"It is brilliant that UNRWA school kids had an opportunity to be coached by him today, and witness his extraordinary skills first hand," he said. "Lilian is just the sort of role model our students should be inspired by."
Thuram will meet football-crazy Palestinian youngsters in the West Bank towns of Jericho, Hebron and Ramallah and in east Jerusalem during his stay, organised by the Palestinian Football Federation and the French Consulate General in Jerusalem.
The climax of the visit, which lasts until April 14, will be the inauguration of a new, 9,000-capacity stadium at Al-Bireh, on the outskirts of the West Bank political and economic capital of Ramallah.
Its one million euro ($1.4 million) construction cost was financed by France, Germany and FIFA, world football's governing body.
At the opening ceremony on Thursday Thuram, the most capped player in the history of the French national team, will present the Palestinian first division champion's cup to the winner of the final, to be played between Al Bireh and Wadi Al Nees.
"Such a visit by an international star like Thuram contributes to efforts against the (Israeli) embargo on Palestinian sport," said Abdul-Majid Hijeh, secretary-general of the Palestinian federation.
International sporting authorities have asked Israel to relax restrictions on Palestinians' movements that hamper their ability to compete in sporting events.