Middle East

Syria footballer 'killed in Damascus stadium attack'

Al-Wathba players after the mortar fire incident (picture from Sana)
Image caption The players were hit by shrapnel from the mortars, reports said

A Syrian footballer has been killed in a mortar strike near a stadium in Damascus, the state news agency says.

Sana news agency says two shells landed near Tishreen stadium in Baramkeh district, where Al-Wathba and Al-Nawair teams were preparing to train.

Several other players were injured in the attack "by terrorists", Sana said.

It comes a day after state media said two mortars landed near Tishreen presidential palace in another area of Damascus without reports of injuries.

Rebels and troops have been fighting in and around Damascus for months.

Opposition sources say more than 50 people were killed in Damascus suburbs on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, at least 31 people were also killed on Tuesday in an army rocket attack in Syria's second city, Aleppo, eyewitnesses and activists said, in one of the deadliest incident in recent days.

The UN says about 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

'Hit in neck'

Homs-based club Al-Wathba and Al-Nawair, from Hama, were getting ready to go to the stadium when the shells struck, reports say.

The players, who were staying in a nearby complex, were hit by shrapnel, the reports said.

AFP news agency quoted an unnamed sports official as saying four Al-Nawair players were injured.

The dead footballer was named as Youssef Sleiman, who belonged to Al-Wathba.

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

"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.

A Lebanese judge meanwhile has recommended the death penalty for a former pro-Syrian Lebanese minister for allegedly plotting attacks.

Michel Samaha is accused, along with Syrian security chief Ali Mamlouk, of "transporting explosives from Syria to Lebanon in an attempt to assassinate Lebanese political and religious leaders," according to a copy of the indictment seen by AFP.

Mr Samaha, a member of parliament, was arrested in Beirut in August, while Mr Mamlouk remains free.

The former minister's arrest came as a surprise in Lebanon, where the current coalition government includes Syria's allies.