Palestinian fury after player joins Israel team

World football governing body FIFA could be about to join international efforts to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians after an Arab-Israeli player switched from a Palestinian team to an Israeli one.

Ali Khatib has found himself at the centre of a storm after his bosses at Jabal Mukkaber, a top team in the Palestinian premier league, discovered he had tried out for Israel's Hapoel Haifa -- and subsequently signed with them.

Jabal Mukkaber say he is in breach of contract, a charge denied by Hapoel Haifa.

And what might otherwise be a local spat could now require intervention by FIFA because the Israeli and Palestinian football associations have no formal ties.

Jabal Mukkaber's vice president Mohammed Zuhaika told AFP that Khatib was contractually obliged to remain with the club for another four years, a claim backed by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA).

Khatib "had a contract with Jabal Mukkaber until 2016 as a Palestinian player and cannot move to another club without his club's consent," said Ali Jibril, director of clubs and players affairs at the PFA.

But the Israel Football Association (IFA) says Khatib has been registered with them as an Israeli player since 2001 and had never requested a transfer to the Palestinian league.

"Transfers between football associations take place by means of an international release form, supervised by FIFA, and the IFA was never asked to release Khatib to another association," IFA spokesman Amir Ephrat told AFP. For his part, Khatib, a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli midfielder who also plays for the Palestinian national side, says he has done nothing wrong.

"I'm a professional and a free agent, this was my chance," he told AFP.

"Frankly, I got a tempting offer and there was nothing to prevent me from moving."

Jibril and Zuhaika say they are ready to seek FIFA intervention in the matter.

"We may have to go to FIFA to solve the problem and to seek compensation for the losses incurred by the club," Zuhaika said, with Jibril saying the PFA would support any such move.

Khatib, who comes from the Arab Israeli town of Shefa'Amr in the Galilee region of northern Israel, began his career with his local team, Hapoel Shefa'Amr before moving on to Hapoel Haifa.

In recent years, he has played for Palestinian clubs such as Jabal Mukkaber and Hilal al-Quds.

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