UEFA soccer matches in Israel halted indefinitely over war with Hamas

Soccer association asks Maccabi Haifa and Tel Aviv teams to suggest alternative venues for games while decision in effect

Maccabi fans cheer before a UEFA Europe League match between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Haifa in Haifa, October 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Maccabi fans cheer before a UEFA Europe League match between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Haifa in Haifa, October 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel will not host any UEFA-sanctioned soccer matches until further notice, Europe’s governing body said Thursday, amid the ongoing war with Hamas.

UEFA said it had conducted a “thorough evaluation of the current safety and security situation in the whole territory of Israel” before the decision was made by its Executive Committee.

The ruling will impact Israeli teams Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv, which are competing in the Europa League and Europa Conference League respectively.

“The Israel Football Association and its clubs Maccabi Haifa FC and Maccabi Tel Aviv have been requested to propose alternative venues/stadiums (which must comply with all applicable UEFA regulations) outside the territory of Israel for their home matches to be used for as long as this decision remains in force,” UEFA said.

Maccabi Haifa’s game at Villarreal on October 26 has been put back to December 6 and Maccabi Tel Aviv’s home game against Zorya Luhansk scheduled for the same day will now be held on Nov. 25.

Earlier this month, UEFA postponed all matches scheduled to take place in Israel over a two-week period after the Hamas terror group’s devastating onslaught on October 7.

File: The trophy is displayed on the pitch before the Euro 2020 soccer championship final match between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium in London, July 11, 2021. (Carl Recine/Pool Photo via AP)

That included Israel’s match against Switzerland in the 2024 European Championship qualifying at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium.

The governing body then postponed Israel’s qualifying game against Kosovo “because the Israeli authorities currently do not allow their national team to travel abroad.”

Maccabi Haifa’s youth team has withdrawn from the UEFA Youth League, which means Sparta Prague has advanced to round two.

War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw at least 1,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing over 200 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — men, women, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what US President Joe Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas, and says it is targeting all areas of Gaza where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize harm to civilians.

Illustrative: Israeli border police officers at a soccer match between Israel and Cyprus at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, on October 10, 2015. (Flash90)

Cyprus has been used as an alternative location for soccer games scheduled to be hosted in Israel during periods of heightened violence.

In 2014, several matches were held on the island during Operation Protective Edge, the last conflict with the Hamas terror group that involved a ground incursion by the Israel Defense Forces.

Cyprus also hosted Israeli matches during the worst days of the Second Intifada in 2002.

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