Football: Israel to let Arab youth teams into West Bank
AMMAN - Israel has bowed to pressure from UEFA to allow Arab youth football teams into the Palestinian territories, having initially denied them entry, a Jordanian official said on Friday.
Israel's refusal to grant West Bank entry to players and coaching staff delayed the West Asia Football Federation's Under-17's Championship, which was to begin on Thursday.
"WAFF President (Jordan's) Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein and FIFA's vice-president intervened with UEFA to settle this issue," WAFF secretary-general Fadi Zureiqat told AFP.
"Israel capitulated (to the pressure) and allowed entry permits for all the teams and officials," he said.
"The delegations have prepared to set off for the West Bank via the King Hussein crossing (with Jordan). WAFF will hold a meeting this evening to decide the official programme, following the delay." The Palestinian territories and their own team are to host the tournament, welcoming the Iraqi, Jordanian and Emirati under-17's squads.
The Palestinian Football Association's (PFA) director-general told AFP: "the Israeli civil administration informed me they have issued all the permits, and the teams can begin crossing into the West Bank from today." The tournament would now start Sunday, he added.
Zureiqat said WAFF had sent the PFA the participating players' and managers' details six weeks ahead of the tournament so they could get the permits from Israel on time.
The teams were initially due to arrive three days ahead of Thursday's scheduled start.
It is the first time an Iraqi team will travel to the Palestinian territories.
Several Arab countries refuse to play in the Palestinian territories, opposing the fact that Israel decides whether or not they can enter.
The PFA on Thursday urged world football's governing body FIFA to expel Israel from the international federation, saying it had refused to allow several Arab youth teams into the Palestinian territories.
"We ask (FIFA) for a red card, because the yellow card has been raised now for a long time," PFA chief Jibril al-Rujub told reporters in Ramallah.
Rujub said Israel had denied representatives of WAFF, which includes 12 Arab national football associations, permits to enter the occupied territories.
Three managers of the Jordanian football union, two UAE representatives and 13 managers and players from Iraq were refused entry, he said.
Rujub told AFP that WAFF was contacting FIFA and the European football federation UEFA, to which Israel also belongs, to "put pressure on Israel to issue the necessary permits" for the tournament to go ahead.
Israel was due to supply permits for all the teams by August 10.
The Palestinian territories are also due to host the WAFF Under-21's Youth Championship in the first week of October.