Last updated: 20 February, 2013

Syrian footballer killed as mortars hit stadium, SANA reports

A Syrian footballer was killed and four others wounded on Wednesday when two mortars smashed into a stadium in central Damascus, a sports official told AFP.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, named the dead footballer as Yussef Sleiman, aged 23, and said he played for the Homs-based Al-Wathba team.

Four other footballers were injured, he said, adding that they played for Al-Nawair team, from the central city of Hama.

Al-Wathba was training for a match in Damascus against Al-Nawair, said the official.

Sleiman, a striker, was killed and the others were injured when they were hit by shrapnel from the mortars that landed outside their rooms, the official said.

State news agency SANA blamed “terrorists”, the regime’s term for rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, for the strikes.

Sleiman, like his team, was from the central city of Homs, which has been ravaged by violence since early on in Syria’s conflict nearly two years ago.

Professional Syrian sports players have not been spared in the country’s raging violence.

Last month, unidentified gunmen killed the country’s race-walking team’s official coach, a silver medalist in the West Asia cup.

Because of the violence that has left some 70,000 people dead since March 2011, some 60 of Syria’s top footballers have moved to teams in neighbouring countries.

Syria’s football championship has not been interrupted, but Al-Futwa, one of the 16 participating teams, could not take part this year due to the precarious security situation in the city of Deir Ezzor”, in eastern Syria.

Championship teams are divided into two groups, taking turns at playing each other. The final stage will see face-offs between the four top teams.

On Tuesday, rebels claimed responsibility for launching mortar rounds at one of Assad’s palaces in Damascus.