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Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Peer refuses to withdraw from tourney

Associated Press

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer has rejected calls for her withdrawal from the ASB Classic tennis tournament over Israel's invasion of Gaza, saying she can take no responsibility for her nation's military action.

A New Zealand protest group said Wednesday it had written to Peer asking her to withdraw from the WTA tournament as part of a comprehensive international boycott of Israel.

The group, Peace and Justice Auckland, said it had received no reply from Peer and would protest outside the tournament venue Thursday when the fifth-seeded player was scheduled to play a quarterfinals match.

"On the eve of the tournament last Sunday evening we wrote to Shahar requesting she respect international calls for a comprehensive boycott of Israel and withdraw from the tournament," protest leader John Minto said in a statement.

Peer was provided with extra security as she played a second round match Wednesday, beating Barbora Zahlavova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. She later told journalists she could do nothing about the politics of the Middle East.

"I have nothing to do with this," she said. "I'm Shahar Peer. I came here to play tennis. I know I'm from Israel and I'm proud of my country and that playing tennis is what I'm going to do tomorrow."

Peer, 21, said she had tried to ignore the events in Gaza but her own brother, a military reservist, had been called up.

"Two days ago, I was crying a bit, actually more than a bit, so it was a hard time for me," she said. "I hope as soon as possible it will end and we will all be happy, because no one wants to be in a war."

Peer said she had never previously been the focus of protests and had even been the first Israeli to play in the Muslim country of Doha, Qatar, where she was warmly received. She said the protesters had the right to express their view.

"It's their choice and they are choosing what they want to do," she said.

Peace and Justice Auckland said its letter to Peer highlighted the attacks and invasion of Gaza by the Israeli army and the heavy death toll of Palestinians.

"The sports boycott of Israel is a key part of any boycott campaign because it is much more visible than a trade or investment boycott and can have an important psychological impact," Minto said. "We saw this with the successful sports boycotts against apartheid South Africa which had a big impact in South Africa and around the world."