Former soccer star, other Israeli athletes among those killed in terror onslaught

Beloved sports figures were lost defending their country and as victims of the massacres by Hamas on Saturday. They are being honored at home and abroad

Israeli Premier League soccer player Lior Asulin (R) being interviewed after a match in March 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Israeli Premier League soccer player Lior Asulin (R) being interviewed after a match in March 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)

JTA — As the Israel-Gaza war intensifies, all aspects of Israeli life have been affected — including sports. Games have been canceled in Israel’s professional basketball and soccer leagues. International qualifying matches have been postponed.

But most tragically, the Israeli sports world is mourning the loss of a number of athletes who have died since the violence began on Saturday.

Eden Nimri, a swimmer with international competition experience, was killed while fighting Hamas terrorists in the southern Israeli village of Nahal Oz. Nimri, who was 22, was a lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces and was commanding a drone unit.

Nimri represented Israel at the 2018 European Junior Open Water Swimming Championships, where she finished 30th. She also competed at the International School Sport Federation’s 2017 World Championships and at the 2014 Mediterranean Cup.

“Eden was an amazing girl, a good friend, competitive, extremely hardworking, highly self-disciplined, worked hard, always aimed high, set goals and met them,” the Israel Swimming Association wrote on Instagram.

Former Israeli soccer star Lior Asulin was also among the more than 1,200 victims of the war. He was killed one day after his 43rd birthday while attending a music festival in southern Israel, where Hamas operatives gunned down 260 people and took many hostage.

 

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Asulin played as a striker for numerous top Israeli teams during a professional career that spanned from 1997-2017, during which he tallied 176 goals. “The Hapoel Tel Aviv club bows its head and sends condolences and strength to Lior’s family at this difficult time,” one of his former clubs said in a statement.

The club announced that youth coach Alon Shamli was also killed in the attacks.

The Israel Lacrosse Association announced that national team player Mor Cohen, 24, was found dead on Tuesday. The organization and most of its players are based in Ashkelon, which is one of the closest Israeli cities to the Gaza Strip.

Cohen, who was one of the program’s first Israeli-born players, had helped start a team in Tel Aviv and played for Israel’s Under-19 team in the 2016 World Championship.

“A remarkable young man, Mor touched the lives of everyone he encountered,” Israel Lacrosse posted on Instagram. “He was a caring teammate and immensely committed to our lacrosse community. We extend our deepest condolences to his family during this difficult time and know that he will be dearly missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.”

USA Lacrosse and the Premier Lacrosse League have each posted statements of support for Israel. “Our thoughts are with our friends at Israel Lacrosse during these difficult times,” read the USA Lacrosse statement, which mentioned Cohen by name.

Mai Naim and her grandfather, Shlomo Sharaf. (Courtesy)

Mai Naim, whose grandfather Shlomo Sharaf is one of Israel’s most successful soccer coaches, was also killed at the music festival near Kibbutz Re’im. Naim, who was 22, had decided to attend the event at the last minute, according to her friends. As the violence broke out, Naim sought shelter in nearby Kibbutz Be’eri but was pursued and gunned down.

Sharaf coached Maccabi Haifa to three championships and was manager of Israel’s national soccer team from 1992-1999.

Israel’s national Football Association issued a statement: “In these sad, painful days, moments that the mind and soul find difficult to contain, we wish to offer our condolences to the families of those killed, wish the injured a speedy recovery and emphasize the commitment of the Football Association to take an active and central part in any assistance required and in any way possible to bring comfort to a wounded and pain-filled country.”

As the stories of Israel’s many victims and their families continue to emerge, athletes and teams in the United States and around the world have offered messages of support for Israel — including the Philadelphia Phillies, who held a moment of silence for Israel prior to Wednesday night’s playoff game.

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