Sepp Blatter
FIFA President Sepp Blatter in Zurich, at a press conference following the meeting between Israeli and Palestinian soccer authorities. Photo by Reuters
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Nir Keidar
Jibril Rajoub Photo by Nir Keidar

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and delegates at the FIFA Congress called on the Israeli government on Wednesday to fully commit to FIFA's plans to ease restrictions on movement for Palestinian footballers.

"I call on the Israeli government to facilitate this movement and I go so far as to say its co-operation is crucial," Blatter told delegates who roundly applauded him.

He said that relations between the Israeli and Palestine football associations had generally improved since a Task Force was established at last year's Congress in Mauritius and the Israeli government needed to back FIFA's plans.

After Blatter spoke, Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestine FA said they would not be calling for any sanctions against Israel as he had implied a month ago, but that the suffering of Palestine football had to end.

"I call on those who are causing the suffering to stop and those that are suffering not to lose hope as they are part of the FIFA family," he told delegates from all 209 of FIFA's members including Israel.

After Rajoub's speech, Blatter congratulated the Israeli delegation for not responding negatively to Rajoub's pleas saying: "Israeli football, you are not abandoned and I congratulate today for keeping silent in the spirit of sportsmanship fair play."

Although Blatter said the situation had improved generally, FIFA, the PFA and the IFA as well as their respective confederations from Asia (AFC) and Europe (UEFA) were not close to a Memorandum of Understanding which he had hoped they would have been.

"The problems between Israel and Palestine have been going on for more than 50 years and it would not be possible for us to solve them in one year since the Task Force was established," he said.

"But we have made positive first steps."

He said a new committee would be formed to help monitor the progress of the relationship between the Israeli and Palestine FAs with consultations between the two continuing.

Israel appeared to inflame the situation earlier this week when it denied Palestine FA deputy general-secretary, Mohammad Ammassi, permission to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, from where he would have crossed to Jordan and on to Brazil for the Congress.

The PFA accused Israel of arbitrarily denying passage to Ammassi.

An Israeli official said Ammassi was banned from leaving the Gaza Strip because he had failed to follow procedure and submit his request at least 10 days prior to travel.

Israel cites security concerns for such restrictions, but has drawn international calls for greater freedom of movement for Palestinians through Israeli military checkpoints.