Blatter promises help for Palestinian team

FIFA President Sepp Blatter promised to help the Palestinian

national team during his tour of the West Bank on Sunday.

Members of the Palestinian squad are split between the West Bank

and Gaza and often unable to move from one territory to the other

due to Israeli security restrictions.

At the FIFA Congress held in Mauritius in May, football’s

governing body called on Blatter to ”try to improve the situation

of football in Palestine.”

On Sunday, Blatter urged Israel to remove the travel

restrictions and give greater respect to Palestinian athletes,

saying that the current situation violates FIFA’s charter.

”I’m on a mission…to transmit to the political authority in

Israel the problems that you are facing here,” Blatter told an

audience at Al-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus.

The crowd included Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who

praised Blatter for his contributions to global and Palestinian

sports. Blatter received an honorary Ph.D. in administration from

the university on Sunday.

”I’m a global citizen but my heart beats for Palestine,” said

Blatter, adding he would invite Mohammed Assaf, the Palestinian

singer who won the ”Arab Idol” reality show, to sing at the World

Cup in Brazil next year.

Blatter began his visit in the northern West Bank city of

Tulkarem, where he inaugurated a new $500,000 football pitch

sponsored by FIFA. He was greeted by folk dancing and flowers

carried by young girls in traditional Palestinian costumes.

While Blatter sounded positive notes, telling the crowd that

soccer ”shall give hope, hope for you, hope for Palestine,” the

president of the Palestine Football Association was more

critical.

”(Blatter) is here to dissolve the Israeli occupation’s siege

on Palestinian sport,” Jibril Rajoub said. Later, during a speech

at An-Najah University, he claimed ”there should be no place (in

FIFA and the Olympics) for those who continue their racist

policy.”

Rajoub said Blatter will meet Israeli officials this week and

convey the FIFA Congress’ call for Israel to ease restrictions on

Palestinian players. The Israeli Football Association said it

wouldn’t comment until it had met Blatter.

Blatter is scheduled to visit several more FIFA-sponsored

projects in the West Bank later Sunday.