Belfast Telegraph

IFA resist Sinn Fein pressure to cancel Northern Ireland friendly with Israel

By Brett Campbell

The IFA has rejected calls from Sinn Fein to cancel an international friendly between Northern Ireland and Israel at Windsor Park this autumn.

South Down MLA Sinead Ennis met with football officials yesterday asking for the match, which is scheduled to be played on September 11, to be called off.

"The international community should be standing up to the Israeli state for the indiscriminate slaughter and ongoing discrimination against Palestinians," she said.

Ms Ennis arranged the meeting after the "massacre of over 100 demonstrators and the maiming of thousands more" by Israeli Defence Forces during protests in Gaza during April and May. She urged the IFA to send out a strong signal that the "slaughter of Palestinians in the open-air prison which is Gaza is completely unacceptable".

Yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May expressed the UK's concerns over the loss of life to her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting in Downing Street.

Last night an IFA spokesperson said the governing body has "no intention" of calling off the match.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he was "saddened that yet again Sinn Fein want to drag politics into sport" which he branded "unacceptable".

"Not content with having turned the Irish language into a political weapon, they now want to do the same with football," he said.

The Lagan Valley representative - who was part of a DUP delegation to visit Israel last week - questioned why Sinn Fein didn't call for Ireland to withdraw from the Eurovision Song Contest, which also included Israel, or call for teams to boycott the World Cup in Russia.

Referring to the 283 people, including 80 children, who died when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile over Ukraine in 2014, Mr Donaldson accused the party of operating double standards by "targeting" the NI team.

"Any loss of life in any conflict is tragic but playing politics with sport is not the answer," he said.

It comes after Israeli leaders expressed outrage over Argentina's abrupt cancellation of this Saturday's sold-out World Cup warm-up match following pro-Palestinian protests. Some of the world's best-known players including Lionel Messi were accused of caving in to what Israeli Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman described as "a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters".

Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen criticised Sinn Fein's attempt to apply political pressure on the IFA.

The UUP's sports spokesman added: "While Sinn Fein may have a veto over the restoration of Stormont, they need to realise that they do not get to pick and choose who the Northern Ireland football team can or cannot play."

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