- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2014

With tensions mounting on the fringes of Europe, officials decided this week to ban competitive soccer matches in Israel and to make sure teams from the Ukraine and Russia are not drawn to play each other in the continent’s top club competitions.

The governing body for European soccer, UEFA, said Israeli teams can request alternative venues outside of their country for the home legs of upcoming tournaments. Its order will be in place until further notice, as Israelis and Palestinians trade rocket fire and gird for possible ground combat.

Even though it is located in Asia, Israel is a member of UEFA for political reasons. Its clubs and national squad compete almost entirely against European teams.

Meanwhile, the decision to keep eastern Europeans rivals at a distance coincides with increasing tensions in the region, after reports Thursday a Malaysian Airlines plane carrying 295 had been shot down over Ukraine.

Even prior to the incident, officials had deep concerns about the countries’ players meeting on the same field.

“After evaluating the request and taking into account the safety and security situation in the region, the UEFA Emergency Panel has decided that Ukrainian and Russian teams cannot be drawn against each other until further notice,” UEFA said in a press statement.

Two of Ukraine’s European-competition entrants are in areas rife with Russian separatism. Zorya Luhansk said recently it would play at least its Europa League qualifying “home” game next week in Kiev; the issue may come up again as the team advances. The country’s reigning champion Shakhtar Donetsk will play in the Champions League, but there was no immediate word on its plans since the club will have no games until mid-September.

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