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Blatter promises to find solution for Palestinian football

Published: Updated:

The Palestinian football association was told on Friday that FIFA president Sepp Blatter would personally intervene to try to end long-running problems with Israel.

Blatter said he would travel to the region in July and speak to politicians and local sporting authorities in an attempt to find a solution.

Palestinians are angry that Israel’s security forces, who control movement between Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, frequently prevent athletes from travelling freely between the two areas.

Israel cites security concerns but says it has eased travel for athletes between the Palestinian territories.

“Football should not be a victim of such situations,” Blatter told the FIFA Congress.

“Our game, with its unifying values, constructing bridges, connecting people... we can and shall play a role in improving understanding between the communities in this region.

“I would travel in one month’s time to the region and meet the associations concerned but also the political authorities so that football activities and development programmes can continue without interference.

“I am committed to ensuring that football continues to develop and be developed in a difficult region.

Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian FA, told the Congress: “I hope that next year, I come with no complaints.

“I want to eat grapes rather than to quarrel with anyone.

“I don’t wish Palestine’s suffering on anyone else including the Israeli footballers.”

He implied that FIFA should impose sanctions on Israeli football if the matter was not sorted out within a year.

“If this issue is not settled, I don’t think those who do not comply with the statutes and standards and values should not be rewarded.

“Sanctions should be taken. Nobody has the right to act as a bully in the neighbourhood.”

The situation is not restricted to Palestinians.

As a full member of FIFA and the AFC, the Palestinian FA has started to hold more regional tournaments but Israelis have been accused of stopping athletes from others countries entering the West Bank.

Recently two teenagers from Myanmar were stuck in Jordan for a week awaiting clearance so they could play in an Under-17 soccer tournament before eventually been granted access to the Palestinian territories.

The tensions between the neighbours have been exacerbated as the start of UEFA’s European Under-21 Championship, being staged in four Israeli cities next month, approaches.

Last week UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said after its Congress in London that European soccer’s governing body was within its rights to award the tournament to Israel and would not consider moving it.

The Palestinian FA became a FIFA member in 1998. They were knocked out of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers after losing 3-2 to Thailand in a two-leg tie, having previously beaten Afghanistan.

Both home matches were played in the Palestinian territories.