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Photo by: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
PA tries to block soccer tournament in Israel
By ALLON SINAI
14/06/2012
Palestinian Football Association presses UEFA to stop Israel hosting 2013 European U-21 Championship over jailed player.
 
Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub urged UEFA to remove Israel as the host of the 2013 European Under-21 Championship in the latest effort to pressure the Israel Football Association following the jailing of Palestinian national team players.

In a letter to UEFA President Michel Platini, Rajoub wrote that Israel’s government is violating FIFA regulations, with Palestinian national team player Mahmoud Sarsak approaching a fourth month on a hunger strike after being held in administrative detention since 2009.

Sarsak, 25, of the Gaza Strip, was arrested by the IDF when he arrived at the Erez border crossing on his way to the West Bank.

“We ask, your excellency, to not give Israel the honor to host the next UEFA Under-21 Championship,” Rajoub wrote. “We are deeply concerned about the situation of our footballers.

“For athletes in Palestine, there is no real freedom of movement, and the risks of being detained or even killed are always looming before their eyes,” he added in his letter that also claimed two other players, Omar Rweis and Mohammad Nimer, are being held in administrative detention.

Sarsak continues to refuse food despite the recent agreement between Israel and the inmates to end the hunger strike in Israeli prisons.

Under the terms of last month’s Egyptian-brokered agreement, Israel said it would ease restrictions imposed on security prisoners and end solitary confinement, but Sarsak, who is being treated at the Ramle Prison hospital, has said he is determined to continue with his hunger strike until he is freed.

Earlier this week, FIFA President Sepp Blatter wrote to IFA chairman Avi Luzon asking him to draw the attention of Israeli authorities to the matter.

“FIFA President Joseph Blatter expressed grave concern and worry about the alleged illegal detention of Palestine football players,” a FIFA statement said.

“The reports FIFA received state that, in apparent violation of their integrity and human rights and without the apparent right of a trial, several Palestine football players have allegedly been illegally detained by Israeli authorities.

“In particular, the mentioned reports refer to the Palestine player Mahmoud Sarsak, whose health is in a very delicate state due to the fact that he has been undergoing a hunger strike for approximately 90 days in protest of his alleged illegal detention.”

FIFA said it had heard about the situation through correspondence with the Palestine Football Association, media reports and the world players’ union FIFPro.

Sarsak’s lawyer, Mohammad Jabarin, said on Monday that Sarsak had broken his hunger strike and had begun to drink milk the night before.

“In order to save his life, he agreed to start drinking milk and he will be drinking only milk...he was severely dehydrated but after he drank for the first time last night, he started doing a little better and is now in a stable condition,” Jabarin told Reuters.

European soccer’s brightest talents are set to grace Israeli soccer stadiums next June after Israel beat out Bulgaria, Czech Republic, England and Wales to host the Under-21 championships and the IFA is confident the tournament will go ahead as planned.

“We are certain that FIFA and UEFA will not mix politics with soccer and are certain that the Under-21 European Championships will take place, as decided, in Israel next summer,” the IFA said in a statement on Thursday.

Reuters contributed to this report
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