Ramallah, Nov 5 (IANS) For security reasons, world football governing body FIFA has asked Palestine to find a neutral venue in Asia to host its next two World Cup qualifiers against Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, but it has not been accepted by the Palestinians. In a statement on Wednesday, FIFA said: “The Palestinian government confirmed that it could no longer guarantee the safety and security around the matches in question.” Saudi Arabia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, announced on Tuesday that they refused to play in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, reports Xinhua. Saudi Arabia beat Palestine 3-2 in the first leg of the Asian zone qualifiers in Jeddah in June. The return leg had been set for October 13 but was postponed to November 5 due to the same reason. As the venue is still mired in controversy, the game has been rescheduled for November 9.
The game with Malaysia is expected to be held three days later. Palestinian Football Association (PFA) spokesperson Tayseer Nasr Allah said that the FIFA notice is unjust to Palestinian sports and that politics played a role in the case. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had received a phone call from Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown prince, and a Palestinian source said the Saudis pressured Abbas to accept moving the game away from the country. Meanwhile, Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas movement’s spokesman in Gaza said, “Hamas appreciates the Saudi position to boycott any normalisation with the Israeli occupation.” Although the PFA is yet to accept FIFA’s order, Nasr Allah said that the PFA is studying all options.