02.06.2015 18:33 h

Palestinian football chief defends FIFA move

Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub said Tuesday he took full responsibility for an 11th-hour decision to withdraw a bid to have FIFA suspend Israel from the world footballing body.

Rajoub announced the suprise decision Friday at the annual FIFA congress in Zurich, sparking jubilation in Israel but anger among the Palestinians, some of whom have demanded his resignation as head of Palestinian Football Association (PFA).

"I take full responsibility for this matter," he told reporters in Al-Bireh near Ramallah, insisting that the resolution had not been dropped but only suspended.

"From the start, I said this was about sport, not politics."

The PFA had threatened to table a resolution calling on FIFA to suspend Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players. It had also opposed the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in West Bank settlements.

Rajoub admitted that the PFA had come under a lot of pressure from fellow associations as well as from UEFA chief Michel Platini to back off from the move.

"Most of the football associations told us they would vote against us if we presented the motion as it was," he said.

"We modified the motion and froze the suspension until FIFA is able to investigate."

Ahead of the congress, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter travelled to the region for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to resolve the dispute.

But Rajoub denied that Abbas was involved in the decision to drop the resolution, insisting the president "had nothing to do with it."

And he said that cornering Israel over its actions both on and off the pitch putting was "a historic and important milestone in the history of Palestinian sports."

His controversial decision sparked anger back home, with Palestinian activists launching an online petition to have him sacked.

"We spent a long time mobilising international federations to support the Palestinian bid and we were surprised when Rajoub said they had withdrawn the motion," activist Fadi Quran told AFP.

"We have launched a petition asking for Rajoub to be dismissed."

The Palestinian football chief even had to defend himself against allegations that he had voted for Blatter to stay on as FIFA president in the face of a challenge from Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan.

"I voted for Prince Ali because I am an Arab," he said of the vote which took place on Friday and saw Blatter winning a fifth term in office.

"There is a forged statement circulating in the media that I voted for Blatter," he said.

"This statement was deliberately published to harm Palestinian sport."

Abbas travelled to Amman Tuesday to meet the prince, with observers saying he was seeking to calm tempers raised over the allegations about Rajoub.

The two men underlined the "soundness of reltions between the two brotherly countries", Jordanian state news agency Petra reported without elaborating.