Cantona backs campaign to release Palestinian footballer

French football icon Eric Cantona on Tuesday joined in calls for the release of Palestinian footballer Mahmud Sarsak, who is on hunger strike in an Israeli prison.

In a letter sent to British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson and UEFA President Michel Platini, the former Manchester United forward said Israel should be subjected to the same scrutiny faced by Euro 2012 hosts Poland and Ukraine.

Left-wing critic Noam Chomsky and film director Ken Loach were also among those who signed the letter.

Sarsak, 25, was detained in 2009 after setting out from Gaza to sign on with a West Bank football team.

Three years later, the athlete is in an Israeli prison clinic after spending more than 80 days without eating in protest at his being held without charge.

"It is time to end Israel's impunity and to insist on the same standards of equality, justice and respect for international law that we demand of other states," said the letter.

The world professional footballers' association FIFPro said in a statement it was "very concerned about the situation of many other professional footballers in Palestine."

"There are stories of other players who have been harassed, arrested or even killed," it added.

Sarsak was born in Gaza and as a teenager played several times for the Palestinian national team in Europe and the Middle East.

Israeli officials have called Sarsak an "Islamic Jihad terrorist who planned attacks and bombings," but have not made public any charges or evidence against him.

FIFA earlier Tuesday called on the Israeli Football Association to make contact with the relevant Israeli authorities to secure the release of Sarsak and other players it said were being held.

"In a letter to the Israel Football Association, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter expressed today grave concern and worry about the alleged illegal detention of Palestine football players," a FIFA statement said.


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