Egyptian Refuses 'Peace Game' With Israeli Soccer Star
Even as Egypt plays the role of intermediary in the ongoing truce talks between Israel and Hamas, an Egyptian soccer star has refused to play in a game of all-stars arranged by Pope Francis for "peace between Israel and Palestine."
The celebrity soccer match is to be held in Rome on September 1, and will include Argentinians Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona, the latter of whom has been vocally anti-Israeli, along with numerous other star players.
Representing Israel will be the Jewish state's star player Yossi Benayoun, an attacking midfielder who currently plays at Maccabi Haifa after a long successful career in the English Premier League.
However, one player not joining the prestigious game is Mohammed Aboutrika of Egypt. According to reports, Aboutrika bowed out of the game out of a refusal to play with Benayoun.
Aboutrika has criticized Israel openly numerous times in the past, displaying a shirt reading "sympathize with Gaza" under his Egyptian national jersey after scoring a goal in the 2008 African Cup of Nations in protest of Operation Cast Lead.
The Egyptian second striker's agent refuted those claims, however, saying Aboutrika was not refusing to play because of Benayoun's presence, but rather due to "personal matters that he must deal with in the coming period," though not elaborating what those alleged matters may be.
Representing Israel against "stupid" soccer players
Benayoun has been standing solid as a representative of Israel on the soccer pitch.
Last month pro-Palestinian rioters stormed the field in a Maccabi Haifa game against the French team Lille in Austria, attacking Benayoun and his teammates - who fought back.
"In the closing minutes of the match we were attacked by thugs on the pitch simply because we are Israelis. We had no choice but to defend ourselves," said Benayoun. "The older players saw it as our duty to defend the youth players and we asked them not to become involved in the brawl."
Later that same week, Benayoun got involved in a Twitter exchange with Joey Barton, who was briefly Benayoun's teammate last season at the Queens Park Rangers.
Barton ranted on Twitter about "ethnic cleansing" in Gaza, saying "if this was anybody else but Israel the West would intervene. ...How can a God stand by and watch this? Or even condone this? Is this all part of his master plan?"
Benayoun responded, writing "Mate things can never changed [sic] you have been stupid and you will stay stupid all your life...embarrassing."