JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli officials threatened Wednesday to drop their support for the first stage of the Giro d’Italia after organizers of the prestigious cycling event referred to the start of the race as “West Jerusalem.”
The first day of the 101st edition of the Italian race, set for May 4, 2018, will take place in the western sector of Jerusalem, the first time the race starts outside of Europe, in a major coup for Israel.
In the Giro’s Wednesday announcement of the routes, organizers noted the race would begin with a time trial in “West Jerusalem.” The Palestinians want the annexed eastern sector of the city to be the capital of the state that they hope to form in the future.
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Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community, and claims the entire city as its undivided capital.
Sports Minister Miri Regev and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said they threatened to back away from their partnership with the race if the wording did not change.
“In Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no east or west. There is one unified Jerusalem,” a joint statement read, calling the use of the term “a breach of the agreements with the Israeli government.”
“If the wording does not change, the Israeli government will not be a partner in the event,” they said in a statement.
The Giro’s move to start the 2018 race in Israel has drawn criticism from the other side of the conflict as well. On November 22, 120 organizations ranging from human rights advocates to religious groups called on the Giro to move its first three stages out of Israel.
On Monday, two prominent Palestinian Christian groups called on Pope Francis to refuse Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation to launch the Giro d’Italia in Israel next May.
Cyclists in Italy also rallied over the weekend to ride in protest of the start in Israel.