RAMALLAH, West Bank, Aug 16 (Reuters) – Palestinian sports supremo Jibril Rajoub has threatened to call for Israel’s expulsion from FIFA after it initially denied officials entry to the West Bank for a youth tournament on security grounds.
An Israeli security official who declined to be named confirmed to Reuters on Friday that some of the accompanying officials had been denied entry to the West Bank “on security grounds” but said he could not elaborate further.
Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and hosts Palestine were due to begin play on Thursday but Rajoub said he had delayed the start by 48 hours while awaiting guidance from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on how to proceed.
Rajoub said that about a dozen officials accompanying the three teams, as well as AFC delegates had been denied visas.
Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has self-rule in some areas of the West Bank but Israel retains overall military control of the territory and can impose travel restrictions on those wishing to enter or leave.
Last month, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said during a visit to the region that he would establish a ‘task force’ to address the Palestinian concerns over the travel restrictions. It is expected to convene next month in Switzerland.
The Israeli FA said that it “would help all it could to ensure that players on the list submitted by the Palestinians would be allowed to enter but that it would not intervene in or challenge the considerations of Israeli security bodies”.
It added that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had informed Blatter of this when the two met in Jerusalem last month.
This week, Israel and the Palestinians resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks after a three-year breakdown, although neither side has expressed great optimism for a major breakthrough.
Rajoub raised the issue of Palestinian athletes’ travel at the last FIFA Congress in Mauritius in June where he threatened that if the matter was not resolved satisfactorily, he would call on delegates at the next FIFA Congress to expel Israel.
The 64th FIFA Congress takes place in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 10-11, 2014.
The Palestinians have long been angry at Israel’s security forces for restricting movement of athletes between the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, territories they want for a future state.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, writing by Ori Lewis)