′Threats′ against Lionel Messi lead to Argentina-Israel warmup match cancellation | News | DW | 06.06.2018
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'Threats' against Lionel Messi lead to Argentina-Israel warmup match cancellation

Argentina were set to play in Jerusalem ahead of the World Cup in Russia. But the game has been called off after a top Palestinian soccer official called on Arabs to burn Messi posters if Saturday's match went ahead.

Argentina's World Cup warm-up match against Israel in Jerusalem has been canceled following protests by pro-Palestinian groups.

The Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires on Tuesday confirmed the cancellation of the match, which was scheduled to take place at the Teddy Kollek Stadium on Saturday.

"The Embassy of Israel regrets to communicate the suspension of the match between Israel and Argentina," it said, citing "threats and provocations" against Barcelona star and Argentina captain Lionel Messi, one of the world's most famous footballers, as grounds for the decision.

Read more: Israel Supreme Court upholds use of lethal force against Palestinians during protests

Palestinian anger

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday said canceling the games was giving in to hate.

"It's a shame that Argentina's footballing nobility did not withstand the pressure from Israeli-hating inciters," he wrote on Twitter.

However, one of the organizers of the boycott, Fadi Quran of the campaign group Avaaz, told DW that the decision to boycott the match came at the behest of the Argentine squad, in sympathy with the Palestinians.

"We believe the main reason this game was canceled was that the Argentinian team got the facts," said Quran. "The decision was made as a moral and ethical stance. I think it is an Israeli spin to try and frame it as being due to threats."

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Argentina soccer game would have been 'unethical'

A 'political match'

However, the soccer match had already been shrouded in controversy after the head of the Palestinian football association, Jibril Rajoub, called on Argentina to abandon the game and told Arabs to burn posters and shirts featuring Messi if the match went ahead.

Rajoub, who has long opposed Israel's participation in international soccer, had criticized the choice of the venue. The stadium is located in an Israeli neighborhood in western Jerusalem that had been the site of a Palestinian village before Israel's creation in 1948.

Read more: Palestinians call on ICC to investigate alleged Israeli human rights crimes

"This match has become a political tool," Rajoub said. "The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem."

Hours before the cancellation was announced, some pro-Palestinian protesters had gathered outside the Argentina team's training ground in Barcelona, Spain, and waved Argentina jerseys smeared with red paint.

Read more: Israel launches retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza after Hamas rocket attacks

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Avaaz welcomes Argentina decision to cancel Israel friendly

'Sports-washing'

The Palestinian group that regularly calls for anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions greeted the cancellation, slamming what it said was Israel's "sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians."

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have flared up in recent months following US President Donald Trump's decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and violent protests along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli troops have killed more than 115 Palestinian protesters, while nearly 3,700 have been wounded. Israel has said its soldiers acted in self-defense.

amp/sms (AFP, AP)

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