FIFA considers action over air strike

FIFA representative blasts artillery strike on soccer field, refuses to condemn Kassams.

IAF copter cool 298.88 (photo credit: IDF [file])
IAF copter cool 298.88
(photo credit: IDF [file])
World soccer's governing body (FIFA) has raised concerns with the Israeli government after the IDF targeted the main soccer stadium in the Gaza Strip with artillery fire. FIFA said Friday it is considering possible action over the air strike. The shells, which reportedly left a large crater in the center of the field, were fired early last Friday morning in response to Kassam rocket attacks. Those attacks included one rocket that landed on a soccer field at Kibbutz Karmiya, south of Ashkelon, the day before. The IDF has acknowledged that the stadium was specifically targeted to "send a strong message to the Palestinian people against terrorism." "Knowing the stadium was unpopulated, artillery fire from Israel was fired directly at it," said the IDF Spokesman. "The terrorism is coming from within them, and they need to know that they are the ones suffering." The fire took place at a time when the Palestinian national soccer team is taking part in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup in Bangladesh. Jerome Champagne, a representative of FIFA's president for special affairs, this week sent an official letter to Israeli Ambassador to Switzerland Aviv Shiron, asking him to explain why the stadium was targeted before FIFA decided what action, if any, to take. Champagne told The Jerusalem Post that the organization was "not happy with what happened." "Hitting a football stadium is absolutely counterproductive for peace, because today football is the only universal tool that can bridge gaps," he said. Champagne added that the field was not being used by Palestinians as a missile launching pad, as Shiron had originally claimed. The former FIFA deputy general-secretary said that Israeli checkpoints have made it impossible for the Palestinians to develop their own league since 2000, and he refused to condemn the Kassam attack on Karmiya. Citing the 2004 FIFA decision to allow Israel to host its national team games on home soil after being forced to play abroad for two years due to terrorism fears, Champagne said, "We did everything possible to make sure the Israeli team has the right to play. At the same time, we have to observe the situation [in which] Palestinian football cannot be developed itself because of Israeli checkpoints." When asked about the threat of Kassams, Champagne, a French national, said, "The Gaza Strip was occupied since 1967. [France was] occupied by Germany three times in the last 100 years. Do you think we could just kiss and make up after six months?" "No part of Israel is occupied by the Palestinian people. It is not right to occupy a people," he added. Shiron said that after he received the letter he discussed the issue with FIFA representatives. "I checked with the authorities in Israel, and I got back to them [FIFA] saying that in the framework of Israeli activities against Kassam rockets and its launchers apparently the field was hit." Shiron said he also raised with FIFA the issue of the Kassam that hit the soccer field in Karmiya, but that FIFA had not yet responded. Uri Selah, secretary of Kibbutz Karmiya, said one resident sustained light wounds in the attack, although it could have been much worse. "It is a small field, but if the rockets had been fired a day later it would have been full of people playing soccer and the situation could have been much more serious," he said. AFC President Muhammad Bin Hammam condemned the Israeli strike as "a crime against Palestine sports facilities" and held a meeting with Palestine Football Association assistant general-secretary Nahid al-Hour to discuss the situation. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, in Bangladesh to observe the tournament, also attended the meeting and is expected to discuss with Champagne on his return Friday what, if any, action FIFA will take.