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FIFA asks Israel to ‘help’ Palestinian footballers

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Jerusalem, May 20 (IANS) FIFA President Sepp Blatter has urged Israel to “help football in Palestine” amid a Palestinian bid to expel Israel from international football.

Blatter arrived in the region to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a last-minute effort to avert a vote at FIFA Congress on May 29 in Zurich to bar Israel from international football. The vote was proposed by the Palestine Football Association (PFA) which seeks to sanction Israel for restrictions it put on Palestinian athletes, reports Xinhua.

“I’m here on a mission of peace between the football associations,” Blatter said here on Tuesday.

Blatter opposes suspending the Israeli football association because it has not violated any of FIFA regulations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Blatter for “opposing politicising of sport” after a meeting between the two.

Blatter is scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday. He said he carries with him a message from Netanyahu to Abbas but could not disclose more details. “I’m very hopeful because we have put a little bit of pressure on both sides,” said the FIFA boss.

He also revealed that Netanyahu agreed to a “peace match” between Israel and Palestine, although no date has been set yet. PFA accuses Israel of restricting access of Palestinian football players from Gaza and West Bank.

PFA chief Jibril Rajoub said that “while Israel continues to participate in FIFA matches internationally with impunity, Palestinian football players have been shot and arrested.

“Our football association raided by Israeli armed forces, our clubs more often than not forbidden from bringing players, coaches or even materials from abroad, just as the restriction of movement imposed on our players and technical staff, within, from and to Palestine have turned the game into a real act of resistance.”

In order to win the vote, Palestine need to garner at least 50 percent plus of the votes of FIFA’s 209 member associations. Israel, however, argues the threshold should be put on 75 percent.

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