JERUSALEM (AFP) – FIFA president Sepp Blatter urged Israel on Tuesday to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players and officials that have long dogged the development of football in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Blatter said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had retorted that the sport should not become a political tool in the Middle East conflict but had agreed to the formation of a joint task force to look into the issue.
"I explained to him the content of the mandate I've been given by the FIFA Congress in May -- in a nutshell, to ease the movements of teams, referees, but also football equipment, in and out of, and within, Palestine," Blatter said after their meeting in Jerusalem.
"I've asked for the prime minister's help and he said yes, but with truth and fair play. He also asked me to help him so that football is not used as a political tool."
Blatter said that the planned task force, which would include representatives of FIFA and the European and Asian governing bodies as well as the Israelis and Palestinians, would meet before the next meeting of the FIFA executive committee in October.
A statement from Netanyahu's office made no mention of the task force.
It said the prime minister had shown the FIFA chief pictures which provided "concrete evidence" of the abuse of football facilities by Palestinian militants to fire rockets at Israel.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel was asking that FIFA give it fair play and not allow itself and the sport to be used for the dissemination of mendacious propaganda against Israel," it said.
FIFA pledged in November to help rebuild the Palestine Stadium in Gaza City, after it was partially destroyed in Israeli air strikes during an eight-day flare-up of violence.
The Israeli military charged that the stadium had been used for launching rockets towards Israel's two major cities.