JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli soccer team said on Thursday it has called off a friendly match with Barcelona after the Spanish team declined to play in Jerusalem, a city that Palestinians want part of as their capital.
Beitar Jerusalem FC, an Israeli Premier League club, had previously reached a tentative deal to host Barcelona on Aug. 4, a person familiar with the planning told Reuters, although neither club had formally announced the match.
Beitar owner Moshe Hogeg said in a statement he had decided not to sign the contract on the match because "I understood that the price I would have to pay is to boycott Jerusalem ... to lend a hand to those who come out against Jerusalem".
A Beitar spokesman said FC Barcelona had asked that the game be played in a city other than Jerusalem, whose eastern sector Israel captured in a 1967 Middle East war and annexed as its capital in a move not recognised internationally.
An FC Barcelona source told Reuters that the game had never been officially confirmed and that there was now no plan to hold it.
The Barca source declined to respond to Hogeg's remarks.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as capital of a state they hope will include the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Hogeg said he briefly considered holding the game in Tel Aviv before deciding against it.
"I'm not angry at Barcelona," he said. "They are not part of this conflict that we have in the Middle East."
Moshe Lion, the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, told Israel's Army Radio: "They (Barcelona) were not willing to come to Jerusalem. I don't want to inflame matters, but they weren't willing to sleep in Jerusalem or to visit Jerusalem either."
On Sunday, the Palestinian news agency WAFA quoted FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta as saying the club had not confirmed it would hold any friendly match in Jerusalem.
Barcelona had a history of actions in "clear defence of the rights and freedoms of all peoples of the earth," WAFA quoted Laporta as saying.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Joan Faus; Editing by Ken Ferris and Hugh Lawson)