Israel Police Intend to Indict Soccer Players Involved in Brawls

Mayors threaten to close stadiums unless police presence is significantly beefed up on match days.

The shock waves produced by Friday's mass brawl following the National League game between Hapoel Bnei Lod and Hapoel Ramat Gan continued to rock Israeli soccer last night.

According to police sources, a "large number" of players, coaches and personnel from both teams involved in the free-for-all were questioned over the weekend, several of them under caution. All those under investigation are suspected of assault under aggravated circumstances, participation in the fracas and disturbing the public peace. The police intends to issue indictments in coming days.

Players from Hapoel Ramat Gan and Bnei Lod exchanging blows during a brawl following a soccer match
Sharon Bukov

Following the questioning, the police decided to release all the suspects, of whom Bnei Lod coach Saliman Azbarga, goalkeeper Yosef Azbarga and players Yahy I'sa, Amar Mansour and Ahmed Merey, and Hapoel Ramat Gan's Lior Asulin, Adrian Fernandez, Tamir Ben Ami, Eliyahu Levi, Yogev Ben-Simon and Oz Ifrah were released to house arrest.

Meanwhile, Ifrah is suffering from bruised ribs, coach Azbarga from cuts on the eye and chin, and Bnei Lod's Yakir Shina has an injured neck.

IFA chairman Avi Luzon, who left the Vinter stadium before the post-game brawl broke out, convened a series of emergency meetings on Saturday and will hold a press conference this evening (8 P.M. ), during which he intends to relate to the recent violent events in Israeli soccer. He has also called an emergency meeting of the IFA management for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Local Authority chairman Shlomo Buhbut called Saturday night for mayors of all Israel's major cities to close their cities' soccer stadiums unless the police presence is significantly beefed up on match days. The mayors of Haifa, Be'er Sheva, Rishon Letzion, Herzliya, Acre, Ramat Hasharon and Kiryat Ono have already replied affirmatively.

"This phenomenon must stop, and it's the least we can do as mayors to make soccer a sport for the masses again, and not a show of brutality and violence," Buhbut said.

Shina, who sparked the melee by revealing a T-shirt under his team jersey that mocked Ramat Gan, his former club, had his house arrest set at five days. "I can't understand what all the fuss is about," he said on Saturday. "The Ramat Gan players are to blame for the punch-up, not me."

Bnei Lod chairman Abu Subhi has no doubt who was to blame for the fracas: "They [Hapoel Ramat Gan] don't know how to lose," he said on Saturday. "I'm going to demand a technical victory from the IFA's decision makers. It won't help them - Bnei Lod is going to be promoted [to the Premier League]. If they dock us points I'm going to dismantle the club and leave soccer for ever."

Ari Shamai, a lawyer representing three of the accused Ramat Gan players, says they stand unfairly accused. "There is no reason why young people their age, without the slightest criminal record in the past, should spend a single minute under house arrest. They are no threat to public order. The police decision to keep them under house arrest is a result of populism and media pressure. Their involvement in the fracas - if there was any - was minimal.