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Argentina call off World Cup friendly with Israel

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Argentina steps back from a friendly match with Israel prior to world cup, seemingly considering Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza. The president of the Palestinian Football Association on Wednesday accused Israel of trying to use sport’s global superstar Lionel Messi and the Argentinian national team as political tools….reports Asian Lite News

 by . A pre-World Cup football friendly between Israel and Argentina has been cancelled amid growing pressure from protesters calling for the match to be scrapped over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, according to officials and players on Wednesday.

For lack of an official statement from either of the countries’ governing football bodies, Israeli newspapers cited the decision to stage the fixture in Jerusalem rather than Haifa, where it was originally scheduled to be played, as one reason behind the cancellation, although the Israeli embassy in Argentina cited threats directed at the family of star forward Lionel Messi as another driving factor.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said it was a “sad morning” for Israeli sports fans, including his own grandchildren.

“But there are values that are greater than even Messi. The politicisation of the Argentinean move worries me greatly,” he added.

In an interview with sports channel ESPN, Argentina and Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuaín said the right decision had finally been made, adding: “Health and common sense come first, so we believe it is right not to go.”

The fixture provoked mounting pressure from Palestinian rights groups, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which welcomed the news that the game had been nixed.

BARCELONA, May 7, 2018 (Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates his goal during a Spanish league match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in Barcelona, Spain, on May 6, 2018. The match ended 2-2. (Xinhua/Joan Gosa/IANS) by .
The president of the Palestinian Football Association accused Israel of trying to use Lionel Messi and the Argentinian national team as political tools (Xinhua/Joan Gosa/IANS)

The friendly had been re-scheduled to be played at the Teddy Kolleck Stadium in Jerusalem to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel.

The Palestinian Football Association also thanked the Albiceleste for backing out.

Israel recently entered the international human rights spotlight again after dozens of Palestinians, including civilians, minors and paramedics, were killed and thousands injured when Israeli troops opened fire on groups of demonstrators gathered at the border of the Gaza strip, which has been blockaded by Israel for years.

Jerusalem has been a particular flashpoint for tensions, too, since United States President Donald Trump decided to move the US embassy and recognise the disputed city as the capital of Israel.

East Jerusalem, an area that Palestinians envisage as a future capital of a Palestinian state, has been occupied by Israel since 1967, in violation of international law and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.

Placed in Group D, Argentina kick-off their 2018 Russia World Cup campaign against Iceland on June 16.

BEIJING, June 1, 2017(Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona's striker Lionel Messi of Argentina reacts during a press conference of Messi China Tour in Beijing, captial of China, on June 1, 2017. (Xinhua/Wang Lili/IANS) by .
Lionel Messi (Xinhua/Wang Lili/IANS)

The president of the Palestinian Football Association, speaking at a press conference, Jibril Rajoub accused Israel of mixing sports with politics, alluding to the fact that the game was to be held in Jerusalem, the eastern half of which is considered occupied by Israel under international law.

“Israel sought to use the game to send a political message that has nothing to do with sports,” Rajoub was quoted as saying in the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

“It wanted to use Messi to ‘sport-wash’ its crimes against the Palestinian people and Palestinian sports.”

Rajoub stressed that moving the match to Jerusalem, after it was originally planned to take place in the city of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, was a violation of United Nations resolutions and international law.