Israel demands FIFA investigate 'threats'

Ori Lewis and Ali Sawafta
Argentina's clash with Israel in Jerusalem was cancelled following a Palestinian protest campaign

Israel has demanded FIFA investigate what it said were threats against Argentinian players that forced them to cancel a match in Jerusalem, including Palestinian calls to burn replica shirts of Lionel Messi if he played.

Palestinian soccer officials praised Argentina and star player Messi on Wednesday for calling off the friendly match against Israel, which Israeli officials had moved to Jerusalem from Israel's coastal city of Haifa.

The officials say they would have had no issue if the match were held as planned in Haifa, but it should not have been moved.

"The Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina, and I would like to thank them and appreciate their decision, which I think was on the right track," Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub told a news conference on Wednesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

At the news conference was a placard saying "From Palestine, thank you Messi" with Argentinian and Palestinian flags, under a large photo of Rajoub posing with the Barcelona ace.

It was a change of tone from Rajoub, who on Sunday had called for Palestinians to burn pictures of Messi and replicas of his shirt if he took the field in Jerusalem.

The Israel Football Association (IFA) accused the Palestinians of crossing a "red line" by inciting anger towards the Argentinian players in order to scupper the match.

"(Rajoub's) aim was to harm our country through soccer," IFA Chairman Ofer Eini said.

"There is an issue of personal threats against players. If a politician publicly calls to burn a shirt, somebody could take it a step further. I don't think that the people who run world soccer can ignore this."

The Palestinians accused Israel of moving the match to Jerusalem to exploit the presence of Messi and other stars to underpin Israel's claim to the Holy City.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, while Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as capital of their own state.