Fans barred from UEFA match due to tensions over Israel-Hamas conflict

The city of Ghent ordered that the Europa Conference League match between Gent and Israel's Maccabi Haifa next month be staged behind closed doors because of tensions over the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The clubs meet in the knockout-round playoffs, with the second leg in Belgium on Feb. 21, and the mayor of Ghent, Mathias De Clercq, said he believes the security risks are too great.

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"The city council has already received several complaints from politically engaged citizens who believe that such a competition cannot take place given the current context," a city of Ghent statement said.

"In addition, the open nature of the KAA Gent Arena and the fact that it is not possible to set up an external security perimeter around the stadium means that, in light of the current circumstances, it is impossible to offer watertight guarantees with regard to the safety of all supporters present."

When contacted by Reuters, UEFA confirmed that the game will be played behind closed doors.

UEFA also announced on Friday that no UEFA matches will be played in Israel until further notice, and that Maccabi Haifa's home game with Gent, and any subsequent Conference League home matches, will be played in Budapest.

Maccabi Haifa were ordered by European football's governing body UEFA to host their last two Europa League home group games at neutral venues, playing in Cyprus and Hungary in November.

Gent faced another Israeli club, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, in the group stage. They hosted a game in October with fans present, while the away game was played in Serbia.