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Palestinians welcome Argentina decision to cancel Israel game

Palestinian footballers thank Argentinian football team and Lionel Messi specifically for cancellation of friendly.

Lionel Messi

Palestinians have welcomed the Argentinian football team's decision to pull out of a planned friendly match with Israel.

The head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, told a press conference that the decision was "on the right track".

"I think this is according to FIFA statutes and according to their principles and mission to promote ethics and values, and to build a bridge between nations rather than being a tool for political ends," he said, adding: "the Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina."

Saturday's match was set to be played at the Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem, which sits on the site of a Palestinian village, al-Malha.

'The right thing'

Argentina striker and Italian football club Juventus star Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN that the Argentina football team has "finally done the right thing." 

Argentine Football Association vice president Hugo Moyano echoed Higuain and said the friendly against Israel was "not worth it".

"I think it's a good thing that the match between Argentina and Israel was suspended," Moyano told Argentina's Radio 10.

"The stuff that happens in those places, where they kill so many people, as a human being you can't accept that in any way."

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) also thanked the team and striker Lionel Messi specifically for the decision, and called for Israel to be booted from world football for its abuses against Palestinians.

"We welcome news that [Argentina's] 'friendly' football match with Israel has been canceled!" PACBI wrote on Twitter.

"The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel's sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians."

The Argentinians pulled out after widespread condemnation by Palestinian and human rights activists, which included a message by a Palestinian footballer wounded by an Israeli sniper during a protest.

Mohammed Khalil was shot in the leg in Gaza on March 30 during the first in a wave of protests demanding the right of return for refugees living in the besieged territory.

"I call on the Argentinian team and especially captain Lionel Messi - because he is very popular in Palestine, particularly in the Gaza Strip - to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and to boycott the scheduled game with Israel, which is occupying our land," Khalil said.

American Palestinian lawyer Noura Erakat said that the decision by Argentina and the preceding campaign were unprecedented.

"This is major. If I'm right this is the first sports boycott of its kind. An indication of mainstream support for Palestine [and] a bold rejection of US/Israeli violent [and] exclusionary futures. Thank you [Argentina]," she tweeted.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to have called Argentinian leader Mauricio Macri in a failed bid to get the game reinstated.

Furthermore, Israel said it will file a complaint with FIFA, the global footballing governing body, against the Palestinians over the scrapped match.

Argentinian star Lionel Messi is widely regarded as one of the best footballers in the world, alongside Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, and has a strong fanbase in Palestine and the wider Middle East.


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