Greeks Say Sorry, but Blast Local Police Over Slack Airport Security

1,500 Greek hooligans fans ran wild in Cyprus, attacking and beating up Maccabi Haifa fans. Olympiakos Piraeus apologized to Maccabi Haifa and its fans for the ugly incidents.

Maccabi Haifa chairman still doesn't know how much he will be asked to pay for the security laid on by the Cypriot police.

But given the events in the early hours of yesterday morning - when 600 Maccabi fans were attacked by 1,500 Greek hooligans and the very thin line of local police separating the two camps was left helpless - it will take a very convincing explanation to persuade Shahar to pay up.

Olympiakos Piraeus apologized to Maccabi Haifa and its fans for the ugly incidents, and condemned the violent behavior of its fans. But it also made it quite clear that it blamed the Cypriot police for allowing the incident to happen at all.

The Greek team said that at a meeting before the game, police chiefs warned them such an incident was possible. "The police should have been prepared for this," said a team spokesman yesterday. Despite the disgraceful behavior by a small gang of fans, we are certain that incident will not have any influence on the good relations between the two clubs."

Shahar himself agreed the Cypriot police presence was inadequate although they knew in advance that flights were scheduled to Athens and Ben-Gurion at the same time.

The Haifa chairman said he would not file an official complaint with UEFA, but was obliged to report the incident, since many fans had lodged complaints with the club.

Greeks bearing grudges

The Haifa supporters - including the writer - were celebrating the team's historic win and singing soccer chants while waiting for their flights home. Some of chants were for Olympiakos' bitter Athens rival, Panathinaikos. Within moments, the Greek fans started throwing coins at the Israelis, who quickly stopped singing and moved over to the far end of the departure lounge.

The hall then filled with several hundred more Olympiakos fans, who decided to vent their rage on the Haifa supporters. The Greeks then broke through the flimsy security cordon that divided the two sets of fans and began beating anyone in green they came across. Many of the Haifa followers, including a large number of children and teenagers, took cover behind the check-in counters.

Those who were too slow to take shelter were knocked to the ground and stripped of their green shirts and scarves. Several were kicked and punched.

`Murder in their eyes'

Local police finally managed to regain control and prevented the Olympiakos fans from seriously injuring any Israelis. They were unable to prevent the Greeks from continuing to throw bottles, coins, ashtrays, chairs and anything that could be thrown at the Israelis.

"They had murder in their eyes," said one fan on arrival at Ben-Gurion airport. "They were chanting `Adolph Hitler' and `Yasser Arafat'."

The Cypriot police eventually decided to move the Israelis to an adjacent hall but the fearful look didn't leave some of the young fans' eyes until they safely touched down in Israel.

Official version

The official Larnaca police response to the incidents offered a somewhat different view of events. "There was some pushing and shoving and maybe the odd punch but nothing more than that. Riot police moved in swiftly to separate the troublemakers," a police spokesman said.

Larnaca police chief Nicos Stelikos, in charge of security at the airport, said there were no arrests, no injuries and no damage to public property. He dismissed any suggestion by Maccabi fans that there was a lack of police protection for the Israelis.

"We did everything we could and a lot more beyond to protect Israeli fans," said Stelikos. "I think it is very unfair (for Israeli fans) to complain about the security."

The game itself at the 25,000-seat GSP Stadium in Nicosia went off without incident Tuesday night. A huge police operation, involving roadblocks and barbed wire, made sure fans were segregated and searched one-by-one before entering the stadium.

About 1,200 police were on match duty, including anti-terrorist units, riot police, sniffer dogs and helicopter patrols. It was one of the biggest ever security operations for a soccer match on the island.

Harazi out for 2 months

Doron Bergerfreund adds:

Maccabi Haifa defender Alon Harazi could miss the rest of the Champions League first group stage matches after tearing a hamstring during the 3-0 victory over Olympiakos on Tuesday. Harazi, who will be out for 6-8 weeks, was injured in the 52nd minute when he collided with Predrag Djordjevic of Olympiakos. The Israeli national player is expected to miss both matches against Bayer Leverkusen and the return games against Manchester United in October, and could even be forced out of the rematch against Olympiakos in November. National team coach Avraham Grant will also have to do without Harazi for Israel's opening two Euro 2004 qualifying games against Malta and Cyprus.