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Egyptian footballer fired after fan deaths says he loves club 'more than anything'

Defender Omar Gaber was dismissed after refusing to play a match during the deadly fan stampede last Sunday
Gaber signed a new contract with Zamalek Football Club late last month (Facebook/Mr.Mansour)

An Egyptian footballer will be summoned to give his testimony about the deaths last week of at least 22 football fans at the Air Defence Stadium in the east of Cairo.

Omar Gaber, a defender who has represented Egypt at the under-20s World Cup in 2011, was scheduled to play with Premier League club Zamalek last Sunday when violence broke out outside the stadium.

At least 22 Zamalek fans were killed in the ensuing bloodshed – police say that a stampede broke out because fans who had not bought tickets attempted to enter the stadium.

Multiple eye-witnesses, however, have alleged that the stampede broke out after riot police fired tear gas at fans who were crammed between metal barriers.

Despite the struggle outside, the scheduled match between Zamalek and ENPPI went ahead after a 40-minute delay.

Gaber, however, refused to play in the match – footage later emerged of him approaching angry fans who had managed to enter the stadium, pointing to the Zamalek logo on his shirt and shouting “I am with you”.

The following day Zamalek, one of Egypt’s most popular football teams, announced that it was cancelling its renewal of the 22-year-old Gaber’s contract.

In a statement, the club said Gaber had been found to have “links” with Ultras White Knights, the hardcore fan club blamed by many for causing the stampede.

Zamalek had signed a deal with Gaber in late January that would see him play for the club for a further three years.

Speaking on Egyptian television after the announcement, Gaber said the club had cancelled his contract “because [he] refused to play the match”.

“I took the decision in the bus before the match, after I heard that Zamalek fans had been killed.

“I will never play for the club again. I have a cheque from them but I will be returning it to the administration.

“Zamalek football club is the most important thing to me – I’ve been playing for them since I was five years old. I love Zamalek and its fans more than anything”.

Gaber has now been asked to relate his version of events before Egypt’s Prosecutor General.

Also summoned was Mortada Mansour, Zamalek’s chairman.

A photograph posted on Mansour’s Facebook page in late January shows the two men embracing after Gaber renewed his contract with Zamalek.

After last Sunday’s bloodshed, though, Mansour went on Egyptian satellite television to say that “unfortunately” Gaber was a member of the Ultras.

Asked by the presenter how the fans died, Mansour replied “ask the Muslim Brotherhood”.

In the immediate aftermath of the events Mansour put out a statement expressing his support for the authorities, saying he had personally asked the interior ministry to intervene in the clashes.

"The police did not fire a single bullet," Mansour told right-wing daily Yaum Sabie, stressing that the deaths were caused by the "thuggery" of fans.

Unverified amateur footage purporting to be from the scene of the deaths appears to show a man wearing black riot gear approaching the stadium entrance, where a large group of people are clashing with police, and firing a large gun.

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