The decision comes after rights groups urged Argentinian players to boycott Israel over its mistreatment of Palestinians.

Argentina superstar Lionel Messi
Argentina superstar Lionel Messi (AP Archive)

Argentina has called off a controversial World Cup warmup match against Israel following protests by pro-Palestinian groups.

A source at Argentina's football federation on Tuesday confirmed the cancellation of the international friendly scheduled to be played on Saturday at Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem. 

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to comment.

The development is being seen as a major victory by the supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which is accused of killing dozens of Palestinian civilians in recent weeks. 

People took to Twitter to thanks the Argentinian team.

For days, Palestinian activists had lobbied and rallied to convince the Argentinian team to change its decision of playing a friendly game in Israel. 

The movement against Israel got a push after the footage of a Palestinian footballer being shot by Israeli soldiers in March went viral. 

Muhammad Khalil Obeid was making a video of himself during a protest rally when Israeli soldiers fired at his knees, ending the young footballer's career. 

Obeid had urged Messi and his national team “to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and to boycott the scheduled game with Israel, which is occupying our land.”

The head of the Palestinian football association, Jibril Rajoub, also asked Argentina to cancel the match and had called on Arab soccer fans to burn posters and T-shirts of Argentina captain Lionel Messi if he participated.

Although the stadium that was slated to host the match is in west Jerusalem, Rajoub had complained that it is situated in a neighborhood built on the site of a former Palestinian village destroyed during the war surrounding Israel's independence 70 years ago. 

Rajoub has long urged FIFA to expel Israel from the international football federation, citing Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinian soccer players and because Israel maintains teams in West Bank settlements.

Protests in Barcelona

The cancellation came hours after pro-Palestinian activists staged a demonstration in front of the sports complex in Barcelona where Argentina is preparing ahead of the World Cup. 

Some waved the white and sky-blue striped jersey of Argentina's national team stained with red paint resembling blood.

"In the end, they've done right thing, and this is behind us," Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN. "Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn't right to go."

The cancellation of the game is being viewed as a major victory for BDS, which seeks equal rights for Palestinians.
The cancellation of the game is being viewed as a major victory for BDS, which seeks equal rights for Palestinians. (AP)

Argentina opens its Group D campaign in Russia against Iceland on June 16. 

There was no immediate reaction on the cancellation of the friendly game from Israel. 

But the Israeli news site Ynet reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called Argentine president Mauricio Macri and urged him to intervene.

Officials at the Argentine president's office declined to comment on the issue.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies