RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The Palestine Football Association (PFA) has complained to world football’s governing body FIFA that Israeli authorities held up a national team player as the squad travelled from the West Bank to Tunisia on Thursday.
The PFA said player Sameh Maraabah was temporarily detained by Israeli authorities at Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan late on Thursday.
But Israel’s FA (IFA) accused its Palestinian counterpart of “deliberately creating a needless provocation” and said it would make a formal complaint to FIFA.
“The PFA broke an agreement with FIFA and the IFA which requires prior notification and a list of names of the Palestinian athletes prior to their travel,” the IFA said.
The team bus waited and Maraabah was eventually allowed to continue with his colleagues, who then flew from Jordan to Tunisia to attend a training camp, a PFA official told Reuters.
Israel jailed Maraabah for two months last year after he was convicted of being a courier for Islamist group Hamas.
Israel had accused Maraabah of returning from a team trip to Qatar in April 2014 bearing money, a mobile phone and messages given to him by a Hamas operative whom Israel had exiled to the Gulf state as part of a prisoner exchange.
An Israeli security official said Maraabah was questioned briefly about his travel plans and was warned by authorities not to engage in any more “forbidden activities against the state of Israel”.
The incident occurred hours after FIFA president Sepp Blatter met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and football officials to address Palestinian complaints that Israel was hampering their football activities.
The PFA has proposed a vote to suspend Israel at next week’s FIFA Congress in Zurich because it says the country is interfering in Palestinian football activities and travel restrictions imposed on players between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Blatter was hoping to avert the vote.
The IFA accused its Palestinian counterpart of contriving the incident at Allenby Bridge ahead of the FIFA Congress vote.
Israel cites security concerns for the travel restrictions, an issue that Israel’s FA says is out of its hands.
Blatter said after meeting Palestinian officials on Wednesday that Israel had proposed a number of measures to ease travel for Palestinian players, officials and sports visitors from abroad and would exempt football equipment from duties.
Two other issues were not directly addressed. One is the charge of racism in Israeli football, with one team, Beitar Jerusalem, refusing to employ Arab players.
Another is the fact that five Israeli clubs are based in settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law.
PFA president Jibril Rajoub wrote to Blatter saying Israel was not abiding by its own commitment to ease travel.
“The implications of this incident can only confirm the PFA’s position on the promises given by the Israeli Government; that they are only words unless they are included in a solution that can only come through, and be guaranteed by, the FIFA Congress.”
Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by John O'Brien and Ken Ferris