Saudi Arabia has decided not to play the disputed 2018 World Cup qualifier against Palestine in Ramallah, the Saudi federation said Tuesday.  

“The Saudi federation has sent an official letter in which it announced withdrawing from the match against Palestine scheduled for Thursday,” spokeman Adnan al-Moaibed said.

The new match date had been set by FIFA on October 21.

The teams played each other in Jeddah in June in the first of their two scheduled Asia zone World Cup qualifiers with the Saudis winning 3-2.

That match was originally supposed to be played in Palestine, but Saudi Arabia had refused to travel to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, citing undefined “exceptional circumstances”.

The return leg was then set for October 13, again in the West Bank, but Saudi Arabia on September 23 demanded that it be played on neutral ground.

That demand was accepted by the World Cup organising committee, but the Palestinian Federation refused to accept the decision, saying it set a “dangerous precedent.”

The matter was then postponed to allow further talks to take place between all the involved parties.

“The Palestinian Football Association has given full security guarantees for the rescheduled match and FIFA has agreed to appoint a security officer who will work hand in hand with the Palestine authorities to supervise the security plan and make sure that the match is played in very good conditions,” an earlier FIFA statement said.

Many Arab national teams refuse to play in the West Bank, saying it “normalises” Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

Israel controls all access to the Palestinian territories, and Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. – Agence France-Presse

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