Ramallah (West Bank): The president of the Palestinian Football Association on Wednesday accused Israel of trying to use sport's global superstar Lionel Messi and the Argentinian national team as political tools, following the cancellation of the Argentina-Israeli friendly.

Speaking at a press conference, Jibril Rajoub accused Israel of mixing sports with politics, alluding to the fact that the game was to be held in Jerusalem, the eastern half of which is considered occupied by Israel under international law, reports Efe. "Israel sought to use the game to send a political message that has nothing to do with sports," Rajoub was quoted as saying in the official Palestinian news agency WAFA. "It wanted to use Messi to 'sport-wash' its crimes against the Palestinian people and Palestinian sports."

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Rajoub stressed that moving the match to Jerusalem, after it was originally planned to take place in the city of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, was a violation of United Nations resolutions and international law. "We took the initiative right from day one and exerted all efforts to work according to FIFA rules in order to prevent the game from taking place in Jerusalem," he said. The change in venue was promoted by the Israeli minister of culture and sports, Miri Regev, who announced that the Argentinean team would tour the Old City of Jerusalem and that Messi would kiss the Wailing Wall, the most important place of prayer in Judaism, which is considered Israeli-occupied territory.

After the press conference, Rajoub went to the Consulate of Argentina in Ramallah, where dozens of Palestinians gathered to thank the national team for their decision not to play the game in Jerusalem. Palestinians see East Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in 1980, as the capital of their future state. (IANS)