"We will not allow Israelis to participate"
When FIDE first announced that the 2004 world championship would be held in Tripoli, Libya, under the auspices of Khaddafi one of the first concerns was that Israelis were not allowed to enter the Arab nation. FIDE then said that anyone who couldn't play in Libya would be able to play at the alternative venue of Malta. One Israeli qualifier, GM Emil Sutovsky, posted to Mig's Daily Dirt that he signed and sent in his player contract after writing "only if I can play all my matches in Malta" on it.
On April 28, FIDE released a letter from the Libyan Olympic Committee led by Khaddafi's son. It welcomed "the top 128 chessplayers in the world and everyone, including FIDE, took this to mean that special visas were available to Israelis. FIDE cancelled Malta, stating on their website that "The Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya will pleasantly provide entry visas to all the qualified participants of this great Championship. No parallel event will be organized in Malta and all the games of the Championship will be played in Libya."
The Israel Chess Federation moved to get approval from its government for the players to travel to Libya. It was all somewhat exciting. Then FIDE released its updated list of players confirmed to play and none of the Israelis were on it. Considering the suddenly changed circumstances it was clear the Israeli players would need extra time. But now that doesn't seem relevant.
Just hours ago several Israeli newspapers reported statements by Khaddafi's son denying that Israelis had ever been invited and insisting that they would not be allowed in for the event. Several Hebrew news sites reported the news and Maariv now has this item up in English. "Mohammed Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, denied on Wednesday he had invited Israeli chess players to take part in an international competition to be held this summer in Tripoli. According to Gaddafi, “We didn’t invite nor will we invite the Zionist enemy to the competition”.
There is now an Associated Press item with more information here. Among other things it adds this quote from Khaddafi's son: "We know the Zionists will seize such occasions to enter the Arab society ... but we will not give up our principles even if that leads to canceling holding the tournament in Libya."
That doesn't leave room for negotiation and it is obvious that FIDE is again in need of an alternative venue. We're not sure if Gelfand and Smirin, the other two qualified Israelis, sent in their agreements or not, but under the circumstances they should know where they are to play before they agree to anything. As for Sutovsky, he was on the player list and then removed when FIDE updated it after the "everyone welcome" announcement! Now he must be put back on, at least once he knows where he's going.
So will it be Malta again? Time is short so FIDE needs to announce the new location for the Israeli players as soon as possible. Perhaps next time around they will start with a location where everyone is welcome.
- World Championship in Libya – for all participants! (ChessBase News, 28.04.04)
- Israel invited to Libyan chess games (Washington Times, 28.04.04)
- Libya Invites Israel to International Chess Competition (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
- Israeli chess team invited to Libya (Jerusalem Post, 28.04.04)
- Libya invites Israel to international chess competition (Haaretz, 28.04.04)
- Israeli chess team invited to Libya (IsraelInsider, 29.04.2004)