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Israel, Sweden to play sans fans

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NEW YORK (JTA) — Israel and Sweden will play their Davis Cup match without spectators.

Swedish organizers on Tuesday cited security concerns for the empty-arena policy when the national tennis squads compete March 6-8 in the southern city of Malmo, cbssports.com reported. Anti-Israeli demonstrations spurred by Israel’s recent military operation in Gaza are expected during the best-of-five series.

Stockholm, saying it could better guarantee security, had offered to host the match, but officials in the capital realized later they did not have enough time to organize before the Israelis arrived Feb. 28.

Stockholm officials claimed that Malmo’s decision was political. Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city, has a left-leaning government and a large Muslim minority. Its leaders have strongly criticized Israel after the Gaza invasion; some called for dropping the Davis Cup match. Stockholm has a center-right majority that is more pro-Israeli.

Malmo Mayor Ilmar Reepalu insisted the decision to bar spectators was solely based on security concerns. He noted that pro-Palestinian groups had disrupted a recent pro-Israel demonstration by throwing bottles, eggs and fireworks.

The decision comes after an Israeli tennis player, Shahar Pe’er, was denied a visa last week by the United Arab Emirates to compete in a Dubai tournament. Another Israeli, Andy Ram, was given a visa to play in the men’s Dubai tournament Feb. 25 to March 9.

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