The recent killing of Palestinian soccer legend and coach Ahed Zaqout symbolizes the setbacks the local sport have suffered in the wake of renewed conflict in Gaza, according to website Inside World Football.
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"The war Israel is waging against the Palestinian people spares no one," the website quoted Abdelmajid Hijjeh, the Palestinian soccer association's secretary general, as saying. "The sports family in the West Bank as well as in the Gaza Strip is among those living through a real humanitarian catastrophe."
The Palestinian national soccer team has vastly improved with support from FIFA, reaching an all-time high ranking of 85 in July. The national team is preparing to play the Philippines in the Peace Cup on September 9 in a redux of the AFC Challenge Cup final in which Palestine qualified for the Asian Cup finals.
Zaqout, who died July 30 at the age of 49, was arguably the best Palestinian midfielder ever, and is remembered for playing in a 1994 friendly against France in Jericho. That French squad featured Michel Platini, the current UEFA president. He later took up coaching – his team won the local championship in 2000 – and became a sports broadcaster.
Zaqout's wife told AFP of the day his home was hit by an Israeli missile: "I heard an enormous explosion. I rushed out of the bathroom and saw a cloud of dust. Then I knew that the rocket had fallen on us. I saw Ahed, his head and chest were soaked in blood. I couldn't stop crying. The neighbors came and took him to hospital but he was already dead."
The soccer legend had no known connections to Hamas.
He is not the only Palestinian connected to soccer who has been killed during the recent flare-up.
Mohammed Qatari and Udai Jaber, two young aspiring soccer players, were shot dead last week during separate protests against the Gaza war in the West Bank, according to Inside World Football. ." Qatari and Jaber were both reportedly 19 years old.
"Mohammed had been selected to meet FIFA president Sepp Blatter when he recently visited the West Bank," the website reported. "These deaths may of course have been coincidental