World soccer authorities to examine Palestinian players’ travel concerns
Palestinians angry that Israel frequently prevents athletes traveling freely between West Bank and Gaza Strip.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter will establish a task force to address Palestinian concerns over travel restrictions for soccer players and officials through border crossings controlled by Israel, he said yesterday.
After meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of world soccer's governing body said he, Israeli and Palestinian soccer chiefs and the heads of the European and Asian soccer confederations would discuss the issue in September.
Palestinians are angry that Israel's security forces, who control movement between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, frequently prevent athletes traveling freely between the two separated territories.
"We shall have a task force...and will have a meeting in Zurich before the next FIFA Executive Committee scheduled for October," Blatter told a news conference.
Blatter visited Israel following meetings this week in the occupied West Bank with Palestinian officials.
Palestine FA head Jibril Rajoub had threatened that if the matter was not resolved satisfactorily, he would call on delegates at the next FIFA Congress to expel Israel.
Israel cites security concerns but says it has eased travel for athletes between Palestinian territories. The Palestinians want the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a future state with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital.
At Tuesday's news conference, Israeli FA chairman Avi Luzon said that this year authorities had granted all Palestinian travel requests.
"We have received (official ) data...that no request the Palestinians have made in 2013 and until now has been rejected, so I don't understand what the problem is," Luzon said.
In highlighting Israel's security concerns, Netanyahu showed Blatter aerial photographs of a soccer stadium in Gaza which militants had used to fire rockets into Israel.
"They're firing at our cities from football stadiums...in a civilian area. This is a double war crime: you're firing on civilians and you're hiding behind civilians... We ask FIFA to allow Israel to play fair and not to let the organization and soccer to be exploited to spread lies," Netanyahu said.