FIFA’s Blatter visits Palestinian territories

Blatter had promised to help the Palestinian national team during his tour of the West Bank last year

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The head of Palestinian football said Monday he will call for sanctions against the Israel Football Association at the annual FIFA Congress next month unless Israel lifts travel restrictions on some of his players and foreign visitors.

Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestine Football Association, called Israel the “bully of the neighborhood,” adding that “Palestinians believe bullying should not be accepted by FIFA.”

Rajoub spoke in a joint news conference with visiting FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is to raise the Palestinian complaints Tuesday in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Blatter’s visit is part of on a several day trip to the Middle East, which includes visits to Israel and Jordan.

His tour mirrors that of Pope Francis, who has been visiting Holy Land sites since Saturday, meeting with the Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli heads of state as well as Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders.

During the conference, Blatter said he hopes a solution can be found ahead of the Congress, the top legislative arm of FIFA, the governing body of world football with 209 member associations.

“I think at the Congress we should try to be in the sporting spirit and not in the spirit of punishment,” Blatter said. The Congress will be held June 10-11 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, just before the start of the World Cup.

An Israeli government official and a spokeswoman for the Israel Football Association declined comment Monday, saying they did not want to speak ahead of the Blatter-Netanyahu meeting.

Members of the Palestinian squad are split between the West Bank and Gaza and often unable to move from one territory to the other due to Israeli security restrictions.

Earlier Monday, Blatter told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “we shall find a solution” but that “it will not be so easy to deal on the other side,” meaning Israel. Blatter pledged his support, telling a beaming Abbas that “your people but also your football association is not alone in the world.”

The FIFA chief said he is a “self-declared ambassador of the Palestine people.”

(With the Associated Press)