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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Israeli Olympics Committee Recognizes Debilitating Effect of Palestinian Travel Restrictions


Talks between the Israeli and Palestinian national Olympic committees are making progress where peace negotiations between the two parties have long stalled.

In talks in Rome last month, the Israeli committee recognized for the first time that Palestinian sportspeople were hampered by Israeli restrictions in their freedom of movement.

The recognition came as Palestine is expected to be restored to the 2012 Olympic soccer qualifying tournament after Thailand were found to have fielded an ineligible player in a match that had knocked the Palestinians out of the competition.

In a further reconciliatory move, the Israeli National Olympic Committee invited Palestinian athletes in the talks in Rome to train with their Israeli counterparts ahead of next year’s Olympics in London.

"This is very important for the Palestinian people and I think it should also be important for the Israeli people. The Palestinian players and athletes are not able to move inside the Palestinian territories and from the Palestinian territories to outside," Palestinian National Olympic Committee and Football Association president Jibril Rajoub said after the talks.

"No, they can travel. It's not a problem. I'm talking on the sport level. We are ready to offer it, we are ready to execute it, we are ready to do it,” confirmed Israeli Olympic Committee secretary general Efraim Zinger.

The Palestinian national soccer team has repeatedly been obstructed by Israeli refusal to allow players to travel and restrictions on movement between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Eight of the 12 players slated to play against Thailand were barred from travelling from Gaza to the West Bank.

Rajoub noted that the captain of the Palestinian football team, Ahmed Kashkash, had not been allowed to return to his native Gaza for 14 months. When he finally was able to return he was barred from leaving the strip until mid-March.

Citing another example of Israeli restrictions, Rajoub said that UEFA President Michel Platini had sent him a supply of sports equipment that was kept in an Israeli port for 16 months.

"I had to pay $30,000 to release the equipment, and as far as I know even the price of the equipment was not more than $7,000 or $8,000. This is the situation. First the Israelis need to recognize the Palestinian sports entity, than I think everything is open, everything is possible. Sport should not know borders," Rajoub said.

Details of the stepped up cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians are expected to be hammered out at second meeting at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, on May 12.

Zinger called on the Palestinians to put a halt to instances of Palestinian and Arab athletes refusing to compete against Israelis.

He said he hoped that "Palestinian athletes will share free movement to practice, to compete, and Israeli athletes will be able to compete all around the world and be invited to all sport events. And that we will not see this non-sporting picture of an Israeli athlete waiting in the arena while his opponent from an Arab country, etc. refuses to compete with him."

An Israeli basketball was pelted with bottles by Turkish fans and forced to flee the court in 2009 and an Iranian swimmer refused to compete against an Israeli at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In the 2004 Athens Games, an Iranian judo competitor refused to face an Israeli.

Cooperation between the Olympic committees has special significance against the backdrop of the 1972 Palestinian attack on the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich in which 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed.

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