JERUSALEM (AP) – FIFA President Sepp Blatter says Israel has promised to help solve one of Palestinian soccer's biggest problems: traveling in and out of the Palestinian territories.
After meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, Blatter said the Palestinian travel problem was ''of national interest'' to Israel and Netanyahu agreed to help solve it.
Because of Israeli security restrictions, members of the Palestinian national team are often unable to travel between the West Bank and Gaza for matches. Foreign players and officials have also encountered problems in entering the separate Palestinian territories.
At the FIFA Congress in Mauritius in May, the group called on Blatter for help. Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestine Football Association, argued at the event for sanctions against Israel. This week, he called the travel restrictions a ''siege on Palestinian sport.''
Very few people enjoy free movement between the West Bank and Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas Islamic militants who are committed to Israel's destruction. Israel restricts movement for security reasons.
In one famous case, Israel imprisoned a member of the Palestinian team for nearly three years before he was released last year after a lengthy hunger strike. Israel accused Mahmoud Sarsak of being active in the violent group Islamic Jihad, a claim he denied.
Blatter said he intends to create a taskforce to find a solution to the travel problem. He suggested Rajoub and Israeli Football Association chief Avi Luzon, along with the heads of soccer's European and Asian governing bodies, meet before the next FIFA executive committee meeting in October. He also cautioned that FIFA could not overcome political deadlock.
''There are some constraints that we, FIFA, cannot open. We need the help of the authorities,'' Blatter said at a news conference.
Neither he nor Netanyahu provided any details on potential Israeli government plans to solve the problem.
And Luzon denied there even was a problem. He said government data showed that all of the Palestinians' travel requests for 2013 had been approved.
''If they have some claim, I don't know what it is about,'' Luzon said.