HAIFAYossi Benayoun has said Maccabi Haifa players had no choice but to fight back after pro-Palestinian supporters attacked them at a pre-season friendly match.

Haifa were playing a pre-season friendly against Lille in Austria on Wednesday night, when four minutes from time, pro-Palestinian supporters ran onto the pitch, some of whom started brawling with the Israeli players.

Club captain Benayoun, who returned to Israel over the summer, released a statement on the club’s website, which read: “As a football club we condemn all acts of verbal and physical violence.

“Yesterday in the closing minutes of the match we were attacked by thugs on the pitch simply because we are Israelis. We had no choice but to defend ourselves.

“The older players saw it as our duty to defend the youth players and we asked them not to become involved in the brawl. As a team we are one unit who defend each other for better or worse. We ask our loyal fans not to judge any of us over this exceptional incident.”

Haifa coach Aleksandar Stanojevic reportedly punched a protester, while banners calling for the liberation of Palestine were also displayed by certain sections of the crowd. Following the pitch invasion, the referee then abandoned the game.