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Palestinians refuse to drop Israel's FIFA suspension bid

Ramallah, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Football Association will not drop its bid to have its Israeli counterpart suspended from FIFA, the organisation's chief said Wednesday after talks with the head of world football's governing body.

"We will keep the proposal on the agenda (of the upcoming FIFA Congress) for sincere and open discussions by the FIFA member associations," Jibril Rajoub said at a joint press conference with FIFA chief Sepp Blatter. "There will be no compromising on free movement of our athletes and officials."

His remarks were made as Blatter wrapped up a 24-hour visit for top-level talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in a bid to resolve the dispute. Palestine, which has been a member of FIFA since 1998, is currently pressuring FIFA to bar Israel from international competition over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.

It is also protesting the participation in the Israeli national championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The clubs play in the third and fourth divisions. Israel has denounced the bid as an attempt to mix politics and sport, saying such matters had not place within FIFA.

"We are convinced that most FIFA members share our views on the situation and will support our proposal... because racism is one of the greatest dangers that football faces at the present time," Rajoub said. "We have been patient and have trusted other ways to ... resolve these problems ... but all those efforts and patience did not bear any fruit. Now it is time for the general assembly to decide."

The Palestinians want the matter put to a vote at the annual FIFA Congress where it will only pass if it gets the support three-quarters of the 209 member federations. Blatter has said that resolving the issue ahead of the Congress, which begins on May 28, is his top priority.

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