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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Palestinian FA calls Fifa ban over Messi 'absurd'

Association chief suspended for 12 months over call for fans to burn player's shirts

Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub shows a red card as he speaks during the 65th FIFA Congress on May 29, 2015 in Zurich. AFP
Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub shows a red card as he speaks during the 65th FIFA Congress on May 29, 2015 in Zurich. AFP

The Palestinian Football Association has condemned Fifa's decision to ban its president Jibril Rajoub for a year over comments he made about Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi ahead of a planned Argentina match against Israel in Jerusalem.

On Friday, the international soccer body suspended the head of the association for breaching article 53 of its disciplinary code, which pertains to "inciting hatred and violence" after he called on football fans to burn football shirts bearing Mr Messi's name.

The football chief will not be allowed to attend any football matches or competitions in any capacity for the period of 12 months and he has been handed a $20,000 fine.

The association lashed out at the decision on Saturday in a statement given to The National, calling Fifa's decision disproportionate, "absurd and lacking in evidence".

It said that it was not informed of the upcoming ban before it was communicated to the media and that it was a result of a "request" by the Israeli Football Association and "some settler extremist group" that lives in the occupied West Bank.

It said that evidence provided to Fifa by Mr Rajoub's legal team were "not looked into" and therefore the decision was based on "an allegation unpacked by evidence," it said.

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The association continued that Lionel Messi and the Argentinian Football Association had not submitted a complaint about Mr Rajoub's words, but instead a third party – the Israeli FA – acting on the player's behalf.

"We are going to target him personally and we call on all to burn his picture and his shirt and to abandon him," he is alleged to have said in June, speaking in Arabic.

Mr Rajoub will miss the Asian Games that begin in the United Arab Emirates in January next year. But he will still be allowed to continue running the association.

His comments came ahead of a proposed game between Argentina and Israel in Jerusalem, the country's final warm-up game before the 2018 World Cup. The game was to be relocated to another Israeli city before it was cancelled altogether.

Israeli officials claimed the match was nixed because of threats towards Messi but the Palestinians maintain it was cancelled because of pressure for the team not to play in Jerusalem, the contested city that Palestinians part of for any future capital of a sovereign state.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev was intensely criticised at home for moving the match to Jerusalem in what was widely perceived as a PR move after the US moved its embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

She called Mr Rajoub a "terrorist" after Fifa's ban announcement and tried to justify the cancellation of the game as a result of a Palestinian campaign against Messi and Argentina in a bid to win back those who criticised her.

The match was to be played at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium, which is built on the site of a former Palestinian village razed by Israel during its creation in 1948.

Mr Rajoub has long railed against Israel at the world footballing body's meetings, attacking the country for creating football teams in the occupied West Bank settlements, viewed by the majority of the international community as illegal under international law.

He has also criticised Israel's restrictions on the movement of Palestinian footballers, particularly from Gaza to the West Bank. The Palestinian FA is seeking the banning of the settlement teams and the suspension of the Israeli FA.

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