Committee to examine Palestinian travel concerns - Blatter

JERUSALEM Tue Jul 9, 2013 3:54pm BST

FIFA President Sepp Blatter speaks during a joint news conference with Avi Luzon, Israeli Football Association Chairman (not pictured), in Jerusalem July 9, 2013. REUTER/Baz Ratner

FIFA President Sepp Blatter speaks during a joint news conference with Avi Luzon, Israeli Football Association Chairman (not pictured), in Jerusalem July 9, 2013. REUTER/Baz Ratner

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter will establish a task force to address Palestinian concerns over travel restrictions for football players and officials through border crossings controlled by Israel, he said on Tuesday.

After meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of world soccer's governing body said he, Israeli and Palestinian football chiefs and the heads of the European and Asian football confederations would discuss the issue in September.

Palestinians are angry that Israel's security forces, who control movement between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, frequently prevent athletes travelling freely between the two separated territories.

"We shall have a task force...and will have a meeting in Zurich before the next FIFA Executive Committee scheduled for October," Blatter told a news conference.

Blatter visited Israel following meetings this week in the occupied West Bank with Palestinian officials.

Palestine FA head Jibril Rajoub had threatened that if the matter was not resolved satisfactorily, he would call on delegates at the next FIFA Congress to expel Israel.

Israel cites security concerns but says it has eased travel for athletes between Palestinian territories. The Palestinians want the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a future state with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital.

At Tuesday's news conference, Israeli FA chairman Avi Luzon said that this year authorities had granted all Palestinian travel requests.

"We have received (official) data...that no request the Palestinians have made in 2013 and until now has been rejected, so I don't understand what the problem is," Luzon said.

The West Bank, which is controlled by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah faction, has self-rule in some areas but Israel has overall military control of the territory.

The Gaza Strip, from which militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortar bombs into the Jewish state in recent years, is ruled by the Islamist Hamas faction which calls for Israel's destruction.

In highlighting Israel's security concerns, Netanyahu showed Blatter aerial photographs of a football stadium in Gaza which militants had used to fire rockets into Israel.

"They're firing at our cities from football stadiums...in a civilian area. This is a double war crime: you're firing on civilians and you‘re hiding behind civilians... We ask FIFA to allow Israel to play fair and not to let the organisation and football to be exploited to spread lies," Netanyahu said.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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