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UK government criticises FA response to Israel-Hamas war

The United Kingdom government has criticised the English Football Association’s decision not to light the Wembley arch in Israel’s colours for Friday’s friendly against Australia.

Black armbands will be worn by both sets of players, and there will be a period of silence before kick-off while there will be support for the Red Cross appeal aiming to help people affected in the region.

But the arch will not be illuminated as has been the case on several occasions, including last year with Ukraine’s colours a day after the country was invaded by Russia, the French flag after terrorist attacks in the country in 2015 and the Turkish colours after another terrorist incident a year later.

“On Friday evening, we will remember the innocent victims of the devastating events in Israel and Palestine,” said the FA in a statement on Thursday.

“Our thoughts are with them, and their families and friends in England and Australia and with all the communities who are affected by this ongoing conflict. We stand for humanity and an end to the death, violence, fear and suffering.”

On Saturday, Hamas, an Islamist militant group that governs Gaza, launched a deadly attack on Israel, who formally declared war on Hamas a day later. The conflict has claimed more than 2,500 lives on both sides and injured thousands.

The FA confirmed any flags and replica kits of Israel and Palestine would be banned from Wembley, but later in the day, culture secretary Lucy Frazer condemned the decision not to light up the arch.

“I am extremely disappointed by the FA’s decision not to light up the Wembley Stadium arch following last weekend’s horrific terrorist attacks in Israel and have made my views clear to the FA,” Fraser wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

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“It is especially disappointing in light of the FA’s bold stance on other terrorist attacks in the recent past. Words and actions matter. The Government is clear: we stand with Israel.”

The British government had advised the FA earlier this week to “mark the events appropriately in line with previous events where sport has come together,” according to a letter sent to UK sporting bodies by Frazer.

Sources have told ESPN that one factor in opting not to light the arch was the fact Friday’s opponents Australia have a World Cup qualifier against Palestine next month.

When asked about the FA’s decision, Gareth Southgate said: “Firstly [there have been] incredibly harrowing pictures. [Our] thoughts and feelings are to everybody who has suffered, who have lost relatives and friends in these attacks. It is incredibly disturbing to see.

“On a broader scale, in my lifetime it is one of the most complex situations in the world and I think everybody is grappling with how best to deal with that.

“I don’t know what it is like to walk in the shoes of people on either side of that conflict. What I do know is people at the FA will have consulted with everybody they possibly can and will have tried to make the best decision with good intentions.

“Clearly whatever decision they came to would have been criticised in one way or another, so I also recognise how difficult it was for them. I wasn’t involved in those discussions, [but] they went on for a long time, I know.

“They have decided to take the stance they have, and we will get on with that.”

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