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Israel congress scrapped due to Gaza strife

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Europe's national Olympic committees scrapped a congress they were due to hold in the Israeli city of Eilat next month because of fighting between Israeli forces and Gaza militants, an Israeli spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Eilat, a southern resort city on the shores of the Red Sea, had been planning for the annual event for the past three years and a year ago was chosen to host it on December 7-8. It will now be held in Rome on the same dates, the spokeswoman said.

"Many delegates who were due to participate expressed concern at coming to Israel because rockets have been falling on the south of the country as far north as the Tel Aviv area," spokeswoman Bruria Bigman said.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, Rio 2016 Olympics organizing committee president Carlos Nuzman and the London 2012 Games organizing committee head, Sebastian Coe, were to have been among the 400 participants in the event.

On Sunday, Eilat residents reported hearing an explosion but a police spokesman said that despite a sweep of the barren hills around the city, no initial evidence for what might have caused it had been found.

Palestinian militants have in the recent past fired rockets at Eilat, a popular tourist destination with a small but busy airport, using Egypt's Sinai desert as a launch site. The city also hosts many congresses and international sports events.

The port city with a fixed population of more than 60,000 and a tourist population of some 100,000, is thought to be well out of range of any rocket in possession of Hamas or other Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip, who over the last week have fired at Israeli cities.

The fighting has had some effect on Israeli sporting fixtures and last week the Israel Football Association called off two weekend Premier League fixtures because police and the military barred large gatherings fearing rocket strikes.

(Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Justin Palmer)

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