Israel manager Alon Hazan 'proud' of his players as they fight for their nation away from the battlefields of Gaza

They are footballers turned activists. Standing up for Israel online in the war against Hamas.

At a cost - with Tottenham winger Manor Solomon and Celtic forward Liel Abada facing abuse, including from some of their club's own fans.

But to Israel head coach Alon Hazan his players are fighting for their nation - without being on the battlefields of Gaza.

Solomon in particular has regularly posted on Instagram drawing attention to massacres during raids into Israel on 7 October, the campaign for hostages to be released, military members killed "protecting" Israel and raising concerns about the actions of Hamas in Gaza. The Meta-owned account was briefly suspended this week for unexplained reasons.

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Abada has come into direct dispute with a section of his own fans at Celtic after the Green Brigade unfurled a banner which read: "Free Palestine. Victory To The Resistance!" The Glasgow giants have banned some of the Palestinian-flag-waving supporters.

"They don't care about what people will say about (them)," Hazan said in an exclusive interview with Sky News. "They fight for their people, they fight for their country, because they know what is the truth.

"So when they keep doing that, I think for me it's a lot different but still, they're another soldier of my country.

"People are fighting in Gaza - Manor and Liel and others are fighting all around the world, to show the (view)point of the Israeli country, the Israeli people and what's happening for us.

"And they don't care if somebody will cut the contract or this kind of thing. I'm very proud of them … Manor, Liel and other players for us can live very, very proud of yourselves for what you've done for the country."

European Championship qualifier against Kosovo

Hazan will be without Solomon and Abada due to injuries when Israel return to action on Sunday against Kosovo in a European Championship qualifier that was postponed after the outbreak of the war last month.

Matches against Switzerland and Romania that should have been played in Israel will instead be staged in Hungary with survivors of the Hamas attacks due to be flown in as fans.

Hazan said: "Even before wanting to be part of the Euros, this is more important for us that we can be proud of our country and give some happiness to change the atmosphere. This is more important than being part of the tournament."

War forced postponement of World Cup qualifiers for Palestine

The war has also forced the postponement of World Cup qualifiers for Palestine, which is recognised by FIFA as a nation and playing in the Asian confederation. Three players are unable to leave Gaza for matches against Lebanon and Australia.

The Palestinian football federation has also talked about using matches to bring their people together at a time of conflict.

But some of the solidarity with the Palestinian cause in British football sits uncomfortably with Hazan given the scale of the slaughter - around 1,200 people were killed in attacks on Israel on 7 October.

'Disappointing' lack of specific silence

The Premier League held a silence for all victims of the conflict in Israel and Gaza.

Hazan said it was "disappointing" the lack of specific silence for Israel as other countries have been afforded after terror attacks.

The Football Association has faced criticism from Israeli and Jewish groups for not lighting the Wembley arc in the colours of the Israeli flag despite being illuminated for France, Belgium and Turkey after attacks in recent years.

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Football 'swimming in politics'

"Don't change your mind depending which country is suffering," said Hazan, who secured Watford's promotion to the Premier League in 1999 by scoring the decisive penalty in a playoff final shootout.

This interview is dominated by the war but Hazan insists that is not an issue because football is "swimming in politics" - pointing to Qatar's hosting of the World Cup.

He said: "This disaster, what's happening in Israel, it's not about politics. It's not about who is good, is bad."

And while focused on his football role, Hazan will be thinking of his daughter. Married a month ago, she was immediately called up to the army and deployed to the border with Gaza.

"It's very, very, very hard to concentrate on football," he said.

But there is a bigger mission - bringing Israel back to the global sporting stage.

"Our country is built from people that keep surviving all these thousands of years," Hazan said. "We are representing something much bigger than football in Israel."