Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Mortar kills Syrian football player

People search through destroyed buildings in the aftermath of a strike by Syrian government forces in Aleppo (AP)

A Syrian football player has been killed in a mortar attack near a stadium in central Damascus and several others injured.

The attack was the second in as many days in the capital. In the first bombs exploded near one of president Bashar Assad's palaces.

But it was the first confirmed strike close to a presidential palace and another sign that the civil war is moving closer to the heart of Assad's seat of power and into areas of the capital once considered safe.

The official SANA news agency said the mortars landed in an area housing the Tishrin Stadium and a hotel next to it in the central Baramkeh district. Some players were practising in the stadium at the time.

The player killed, 19-year-old Youssef Suleiman, was a striker with the Homs-based al-Wathbah club. He was wounded inside the hotel as some players were getting ready to go out and join the practice and died later at hospital.

The attack came a few hours before the team was to play against the Hama-based al-Mawaair club as part of the domestic league.

"We were collecting our things about to head to the stadium when we heard the first explosion and the windows were blown off," said Ali Ghosn, a 20-year-old player.

"Youssef was hit in the neck. We ran out to the corridor when the second explosion struck and I saw Youssef fall down bleeding from his neck," he said.

Assad has tried to maintain an image as the head of a functioning state even as rebels edge closer to the heart of Damascus.

The capital had largely been spared the violence that has left other cities in ruins. For weeks, however, rebels who have established footholds in the suburbs have been pushing closer to the centre of Damascus from the eastern and southern outskirts, clashing with government forces.

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