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Argentina Calls Off Game Against Israel After Protests

Argentina has called off a World Cup warmup match against Israel following protests by pro-Palestinian groups.

A source at Argentina's football federation on Tuesday confirmed the cancellation of the international friendly scheduled to be played Saturday at Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to comment.

The head of the Palestinian football association, Jibril Rajoub, had urged Argentina to cancel the match and had called on Arab soccer fans to burn posters of Argentina captain Lionel Messi if he participated.

Although the stadium that was slated to host the match is in west Jerusalem, Rajoub had complained that it is situated in a neighborhood built on the site of a former Palestinian village destroyed during the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948. Rajoub has long urged FIFA to expel Israel from the international football federation, citing Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinian soccer players and because Israel maintains teams in West Bank settlements.

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The cancellation came hours after pro-Palestinian activists staged a demonstration in front of the sports complex in Barcelona where Argentina is preparing ahead of the World Cup. Some waved the white and sky-blue striped jersey of Argentina's national team stained with red paint resembling blood.

"In the end, they've done right thing, and this is behind us," Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN. "Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn't right to go."

Argentina opens its Group D campaign in Russia against Iceland on June 16. It then plays Croatia on June 21 and Nigeria on June 26. It is unclear whether Argentina will play another warmup, or if it will arrive to Moscow ahead of schedule.

There was no immediate reaction on the cancellation of the friendly game from Israel. But the Israeli news site Ynet reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called Argentine president Mauricio Macri and urged him to intervene.

Officials at the Argentine president's office declined to comment on the issue.

The cancellation was seen as a victory for the global Palestinian anti-Israel boycott campaign. The grassroots movement advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel in what supporters say is a way to promote Palestinian rights through nonviolent means.

But Israel says the campaign goes beyond Israeli occupation of lands claimed by the Palestinians and masks a deeper aim of delegitimizing or even destroying the country. It has formed a government ministry whose primary mission is to combat the boycott movement.

The boycott movement welcomed the cancellation. It said the Argentinian team responded to "creative campaigning" denouncing what it called Israel's "sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians."

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the area in a move not recognized by the international community. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

The Palestinians have also been outraged by President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to the city.

The Argentine decision may also have been influenced by deadly violence along the Israeli-Gaza border. More than 115 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 3,700 more wounded during near-weekly protests along the Israeli border, according to Palestinian health officials. The vast majority of casualties have been unarmed.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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