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Pro-Palestine protesters attack players

Bichofshofen (Austria): A pre-season friendly between Israeli side Maccabi Haifa and French Ligue 1 side Lille was abandoned when protesters carrying placards in support of Palestinians stormed the pitch and attacked the players.

Fights between supporters and the Maccabi players broke out on the pitch three minutes from the end of the match, which was held on Wednesday in the Austrian town of Bischofshofen.

Both sides managed to leave the field unharmed but one of the Maccabi players was seen to trip a fan and the Israeli side’s head coach Aleksandar Stanojevic also allegedly retaliated.

The referee was forced to stop the game in the 86th minute and ultimately brought the fixture to an early end.

Before the ugly scenes, Lille had been ahead thanks to goals from Ryan Mendes and Simon Kjaer.

Uefa announced in June that Israeli clubs would not be allowed to host European matches due to the ‘unrest’ in Israel.

The players left the dressing room — under protection — an hour after the match ended because some protesters had remained outside the stadium.

Israel is currently engaged in hostilities with Hamas, a militant group which controls the Gaza Strip. Israel launched a military offensive in order to halt rocket fire emanating from Gaza but since the conflict began on July 8 at least 649 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus three Israeli civilians, have been killed.

Maccabi Haifa is one of four clubs in the ‘Big Four’ in Israeli football.

It has won twelve League titles, five State Cups and is one of the most popular team among Israeli football fans.

The club has a long history of integrating local Muslim and Arab players and currently has Weaam Amasha, Ataa Jaber, Taleb Tawatha, Mohammadou Idrissou, Mohammed Kalibat and Ismaeel Ryan on its books.

Maccabi later released a statement regarding the incident. “We experienced an uncomfortable atmosphere of violence on the pitch and in the stands. The attack was premeditated and dangerous in light of the incitement in Turkish media. (The protesters) were mostly Turkish immigrants.

“Maccabi believes in co-existence, tolerance and is against violence. We denounce the violence that was used against us. This didn’t happen because of sport or football, it happened because we are a team which represents Israel.”