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By ESPN Staff

UEFA asks Israel to assure safety of visiting clubs

JERUSALEM, July 27 (Reuters) - UEFA, has written to the Israeli FA asking them to provide added safety assurances for clubs due to visit the country to face local opponents in European competitions.

The request came after a meeting of UEFA's Emergency Panel in Switzerland which discussed the security situation in Israel resulting from the conflict in Lebanon.

'UEFA (today asked) for written assurances from the both FA and the relevant public authorities involved, guaranteeing safety and security around UEFA matches to be played in the Tel Aviv area,' the statement said.

The letter also called for the Israeli FA to submit a backup plan to UEFA in the event that the security situation in the Jewish state deteriorates.

'We have thoughts and plans in the event that things get worse, but I sincerely hope they will not be needed... in the meantime matches will be played in the Tel Aviv area,' Israeli FA chairman Iche Menahem told Israel Radio.

Security fears have increased in the Jewish state as a result of the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah which began earlier this month.

Israeli clubs had feared that European soccer's governing body might decide to move matches out of the country for the Champions League and UEFA Cup qualifying rounds which are due to be played next month.

Maccabi Haifa are in the third qualifying round of the Champions League, while Hapoel Tel Aviv, Beitar Jerusalem and Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv are due to play in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Cup.

The clubs' opponents will be determined at the UEFA draw to be made on Friday.

International soccer returned to Israel in April 2004 after a 25-month ban due to a worsening of the security situation in the country. Matches can only be played in the Tel Aviv area.

Between March 2002 and April 2004 Israeli teams had to host opponents in a number of European venues including Cyprus, Turkey, Italy and Bulgaria.