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Israel bans fencing team from competing in Qatar over security fears

Delegations barred from Grand Prix championship, but individual athletes could still be allowed to attend
Qatar has previously welcomed Israeli sports teams into the country and compete in tournaments (AFP)

Israel has said it will not be sending its national fencing team to compete at a tournament in Qatar over security fears, but individual athletes could still be allowed to attend.

The Shin Bet, Israel's security service, issued the directive on Tuesday, warning of a "heightened threat level in the Gulf region".

It said that the order only applied to teams and delegations, with the fencing team barred from attending the Grand Prix fencing championship, which will take place in Doha in late January.

The order comes amid fears of Iranian retaliation over the US killing of Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani earlier this month. Israel has also prohibited the team from going to any Gulf country.

"Due to the Shin Bet's assessment of the situation following recent events in our region, the threat level in the Gulf has been raised," a statement by Israel's Culture and Sports Ministry to its fencing association said,  as reported by the Haaretz newspaper.

"In light of this, the Shin Bet has forbidden delegations from the region out of security concerns."

Yuval Freilich, an Israeli fencer who won the European championship in August, may end up going to Qatar himself to compete in the men's individual tournament, Haaretz said.

Israel's fencing association said it was looking into the possibility of sending Freilich to compete in Doha, as the expected points he would obtain at the tournament could help him qualify for the Olympics.

Freilich is currently 23rd in the International Fencing Association's rankings.

The ban would, however, hurt the Israeli team's chances of qualifying for the Olympics, which will take place in Tokyo, Japan in the summer.

Qatar has previously welcomed Israeli sports teams to come to the country and compete in tournaments.