Gaza War Sparks Tensions for Israeli Arab Soccer Team

Bnei Sakhnin asks for exemption from racist chants, as Toto Cup games get postponed.

Before the Israel Police and Israel Football Association decided yesterday to postpone the Toto Cup soccer match between Bnei Sakhnin and Kiryat Shmona, Sakhnin chairman Hassan Abu Saleh asked the IFA for guarantees his team would not be punished if fans make racist chants during his team's games.

The quarterfinal match had been scheduled to be held today. No new date was set.

"I have no problem holding games, but as long as the war in Gaza goes on there's no place for holding games in Sakhnin because of the sensitivity of the situation," Abu Saleh said.

During yesterday's practice, club heads talked with the team's Jewish players several times to allay their fears in light of the fierce antiwar protests held in the area Saturday.

Avi Luzon, the IFA chairman, also moved up Wednesday's game between Ashdod S.C. and Maccabi Netanya from 7:45 P.M. to 5 P.M. Ashdod asked for the change to allow its players to return home earlier in the evening. The game will be held in the national stadium in Ramat Gan because Maccacbi's stadium is being resodded.

The games must go on

The chairman is also expected to make a decision about this weekend's games in the next day or two. Luzon, according to people familiar with the situation, thinks it's a must to hold the games this weekend, except for areas within rocket range, as long as police permission can be secured.

The police and IFA reached an understanding yesterday that both first- and second-tier league games can go on as normal pending a final decision based on events in Gaza and the availability of police personnel.