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Israel-Palestine war: Rising Gaza football star and father killed in Israeli strike

Nazir al-Nashnash, a 20-year-old university student, played for Bureij Services Football Club
Palestinian footballer Nazir Atta al-Nashash was killed in an Israeli air strike over the weekend (Nazir Atta al-Nashash, Facebook)

Nazir al-Nashash, a young aspiring Palestinian footballer, was killed along with his father and uncle after an Israeli missile struck their home over the weekend.

The al-Nashnash family had fled their home in the Jabalia refugee camp in the north after Israel started a relentless bombing campaign in response to a surprise attack by Hamas on 7 October, which killed around 1,400 Israelis.

On Saturday, 20-year-old Nazir, his father Atta, 43, and his uncle Nael had returned to their six-storey building in the camp to retrieve some belongings and necessities, Emad al-Nashash, a family relative, told Middle East Eye.

"Upon their entry, an Israeli aircraft targeted the house with a first missile and then another, resulting in the complete destruction of the house and the tragic loss of their lives," said Emad, who works as a senior anchor at Jordan's Radio and Television Corporation.

Hammad al-Nashash, a cousin based in Jordan, confirmed to MEE that other members of the family were also wounded while standing outside the building.

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"Nazir was a young man like any young person, ambitious and optimistic about the future," Hammad said of the footballer and university student. "He loved life and loved playing football." 

Nazir is survived by his mother and two sisters, who were also wounded in the air strike. "They are in a very dire situation," Emad said of the surviving family. 

Nazir's sister Yusra, 18, wrote touching tributes to her brother, father, and uncle on Atta's Facebook page, which they have had access to since his death.

Describing her brother as a "piece of her heart", she wrote: "You enrolled me in university with you just so that I could be with you, so we would never separate, go together and do everything together to become engineers."

The Palestinian footballer (left) with his father, (right)
Nazir and his father Atta pose for a photo (social media)

To her father, Yusra wrote: "Dad, you are the crown of my head...We wanted to die together so that none of us would feel sorry for the other. Where did you go to Dad?"

"Khadamat al-Bureij's football star Nazir Ata al-Nashnash has been martyred in the ongoing brutal Israeli aggression on Gaza," the Palestine Olympic Committee said in a statement published on Facebook Sunday.

The al-Nashash family - who originally came from the town of al-Faluja, located some 20 kilometres east of the Gaza Strip - sought refuge in Jabalia after the Nakba in 1948, which saw almost a million Palestinians displaced from their homeland after the inception of Israel that same year.

Athletes among victims

At least 6,546 Palestinians, including 2,360 children and 1,292 women, have been killed in Israeli strikes since the war started.

Several prominent sports figures in the Gaza Strip have been among the victims. Almost a week into Israel's bombardment of Gaza, Basem al-Nabahin, a player with the Bureij Services Basketball Club, was killed in an air strike. 

Nabahin initially began playing basketball through the club's youth team, eventually going on to win a basketball league championship, the committee said in a statement on 13 October.

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Mohammad Matar, who worked for the Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s media committee; Abdul Hafeez al-Mabhouh, a member of the Palestinian national Judo team; Omar Abu Shawish, a member of the executive office of the Palestinian Sports Culture Union; and Arif al-Nabahin, described by the committee as a "pillar" of the Bureij Services Basketball Club, were also killed in Israeli bombing according to the committee.

Rashid Dabour, a football player for al-Ahly Beit Hanoun Club and the Palestinian national football team, was also killed days after the Israeli bombing of Gaza began. 

In the world of football, several prominent former and current football players have voiced their support for the Palestinians, prompting some backlash.

"All our prayers for the inhabitants of Gaza who are once again victims of these unjust bombings which spare no women or children," wrote Karim Benzema, the fifth all-time top scorer for the French national team, on the social media platform X, on 15 October.

Benzama, who currently plays as a centre-forward for the Saudi club al-Ittihad, was criticised by French right-wing politicians for his comments in support of the Palestinians.

In a post titled "Free Palestine," Eric Cantona, a former French footballer known for his social activism, spoke out on Instagram on 17 October, and called for "freedom for Palestinians from Israeli occupation".

In a statement published on Facebook on 18 October, responding to the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, the Arab Sports Culture Association urged national and international sporting institutions to call for a ceasefire and extend their solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

The association further announced that Arab athletes will not participate in any future championship hosting Israeli athletes in protest against the civilian death toll. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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