Palestinians ask UEFA to bar Israel as host

Euro Under-21 Championship should not be held in Israel while Palestinian players are detained, football body says.

    Palestinians ask UEFA to bar Israel as host
    Protesters gather in front of Ofer prison, near Ramallah, in solidarity with the three footballers held by Israel [AFP]

    The Palestine Football Association (PFA) has asked UEFA to bar Israel from hosting the 2013 European Under-21 Championship over its detention without trial of Palestinian players.

    In a letter addressed to UEFA President Michel Platini, PFA President Jibril Rajoub expressed concern over the fate of three players - Palestine midfielder Mahmud Sarsak, Olympic squad goalkeeper Omar Abu Rois and Ramallah player Mohammed Nimr, all of whom are being held by Israel without charge.

    "We are deeply concerned about the situation of our footballers," Rajoub wrote in the letter, dated June 12, a copy of which was seen by the AFP news agency on Thursday.

    "We ask your excellency not to give Israel the honour of hosting the next UEFA U21 Championship in 2013."

    Israel is set to stage the eight-nation tournament across four venues from June 5 to 18 next year. 

    The UEFA executive committee voted for Israel in January 2011 over competing bids from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, England and Wales.

    Hunger strike

    Sarsak, 25, is currently on a hunger strike which has lasted more than 80 days, sparking a growing international outcry.

    He was arrested in July 2009 after setting out from Gaza to sign on with a West Bank football team.

    In late March, he began refusing food in a protest which has continued until now, despite a brief pause in mid-April. He is taking vitamins and sugar and drinking milk.

    Abu Rois was snatched by Israeli forces in February while working at the Ramallah offices of the Red Crescent, with the military accusing him and 12 others of firing at an Israeli army patrol in the city's Amari refugee camp, the letter said.

    Nimr, who plays for Amari football club, was also arrested in February. It was not clear why, Rajoub said.

    "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 wrote.

    Renewable indefinitely

    More than 300 Palestinians are currently being held under administrative detention orders, which allow Israel to hold a suspect without charge for renewable six-month periods.

    Each detention order is renewable indefinitely, and based on secret evidence which the individual and his lawyer are often unable to see.

    Sarsak is being held under Israel's so-called unlawful combatants law, a very similar procedure which applies to suspects who are not from the West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem.

    FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the global network of players' unions, FIFPro, support Sarsak's case.

    Blatter wrote to Israel football president Avi Luzon this week asking for "urgent" help to press government authorities for action.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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