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European MPs call for FIFA to act against Israeli settlement soccer clubs

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Members of the European Parliament called on world soccer’s governing body FIFA on Friday to act against Israeli clubs based in settlements in the occupied West Bank and prevent them from participating in officially sanctioned play.

Sixty-six members of the 751-member European Parliament signed a letter addressed to FIFA President Gianni Infantino urging action at next month’s FIFA Council meetings.

The five clubs the MEPs referred to as being in breach of FIFA rules are all minor, non-professional outfits from the West Bank settlements of Maale Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Zeev and Bikat Hayarden (Jordan Valley).

Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israeli disputes this. The European Commission, the EU’s executive, has sought to draw clearer distinctions between Israel proper and the land it occupies.

“We urge you to act in accordance with FIFA statutes (and) international law...(that) FIFA should rule that settlement clubs either fully relocate within Israel’s internationally recognised borders or are excluded from the Israeli Football Association,” the letter said.

The appeal to FIFA was led by Alyn Smith of the Scottish National Party, a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, who while calling on FIFA to “respect its own rules”, added that it was not a request for a ban of Israel.

“I am not asking FIFA to suspend Israel, we just want it to apply the rules. Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to play football... Allowing Israel to use football as an instrument of territorial expansion in the West Bank politicizes football,” Smith said in a statement.

An official at the Israeli FA (IFA) told Reuters that the agenda for the Oct. 13-14 FIFA Council meetings set to take place in Zurich had not yet been set and there was no certainty the matter would come up for discussion.

He added that a committee established by FIFA last year to try to resolve disputed issues between the Israeli and Palestinian associations was still in discussions.

The committee led by South African businessman and former political prisoner Tokyo Sexwale convened for the first time a year ago. It was set up following a heated exchange at the FIFA Congress in May 2015, when the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) surprisingly dropped its proposal for a ban of Israel.

The PFA has long complained that Israel hampers its activities, including restricting the movement of players between the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and barring some international travel.

Israel has eased travel but in some cases it cites security concerns for the restrictions, and the IFA has argued that it has no control over such matters, which fall under the jurisdiction of Israel’s security authorities.

Writing by Ori Lewis, Editing by Angus MacSwan