Football: Palestinians ask UEFA to bar Israel as U21 host

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories - The Palestine Football Association 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 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 AFP on Thursday. "We ask your excellency not to give Israel the honour of hosting the next UEFA U21 Championship in 2013," he wrote.

There was no immediate comment from UEFA.

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 today, 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, the letter said. The military accused him and 12 others of firing at an Israeli army patrol in the city's Amari refugee camp.

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

"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," Rajoub wrote.

On Tuesday, French football icon Eric Cantona and nine other prominent figures sent a letter to Platini raising concerns over the ongoing detention of Sarsak and questioning the silence over Israeli policies.

"We are all shocked at the racist chanting at football matches in Poland and Ukraine where Euro 2012 is being played. Footballing bodies and politicians have been outspoken in their condemnation," they wrote.

"So why are these same groups silent when Israel is to host the UEFA Under-21s competition in 2013?

"It is time to end Israel's impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states."

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 that 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

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