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Palestinian FA rejects FIFA ruling on Saudi qualifier

Sept. 29, 2015 4:48 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 29, 2015 6:06 P.M.)
A banner pictured at the World Cup qualifier in the town of Al-Ram on Sept. 8, 2015. (AFP/File Thomas Coex)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- Palestinian football's governing body has said it is "impossible" to accept FIFA's decision that it must play a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia on neutral territory.

The fixture, set for October 13, had been scheduled to take place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but Saudi Arabia on September 23 demanded that it be played on neutral ground.

The teams met each other in the Saudi city of Jeddah in June, with the Saudis winning 3-2.

That match was actually supposed to be played in Palestine but Saudi Arabia had refused to travel to the West Bank, citing undefined "exceptional circumstances."

Palestine agreed to the switch but had requested that the return fixture, originally scheduled to be played in Jeddah, be hosted by Palestine instead, thus essentially just reversing the home and away fixtures.

Palestinian FA officials said the Saudi decision could have been due to reluctance to pass through Israeli checkpoints on their way to the game.

On Monday, Saudi media said FIFA had agreed to transfer the October match to neutral territory.

The official SPA news agency said the country's FA had received the organizing committee's decision, in which "the international federation understands the justification put forward" by the Saudis to transfer the game.

It did not elaborate on what that justification was.

Many Arab national teams refuse to play in the West Bank, saying it "normalizes" Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.

Following the FIFA decision, Palestinian FA chief Jibril Rajoub said: "Depriving Palestine of the right to play at home is a dangerous precedent and impossible to accept under any conditions."

The Palestinian national team played a qualifier at home for the first time on September 8, holding the United Arab Emirates to a goalless draw at the Faisal Husseini stadium in Al-Ram, near Jerusalem.

The World Cup organizing committee's decision does not say where the game against Saudi Arabia will be played or explain either the reason for the decision or the Saudi FA's objection to playing in the West Bank.

Israel controls all access to the occupied Palestinian territory, and Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel.

Cited by the Palestinian FA, Rajoub said he would lobby internationally to have the FIFA decision revoked.

But FIFA in its decision said the ruling is "final and binding."

Rajoub, who had at one point sought to have Israel suspended from FIFA over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players, has said that hosting the UAE showed that "Palestine exists and that Palestinians have the right to live in their own independent state."

Moving the fixture elsewhere would be a double blow to the Palestinians -- both for fans of the sport -- because each international game on Palestinian soil serves the political cause of a state that has yet to materialize.
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