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Surgeons manage to save part of hero guard's hand

A security guard picked up a homemade firecracker at a Jerusalem basketball game, protecting others from the blast. His hand was mangled, but he will have the use of three of his fingers after lengthy surgery.

The guard, Yoav Glitzstein, has been called a hero for his act, grabbing the explosive before it could go off and possibly wound some of the players, coaches and fans at the Jerusalem basketball stadium. In parallel to praise for the guard, Israeli sports figures and columnists expressed outrage at the incident, connecting it to growing violence around Israeli sports.

The Sunday match was broadcast live on the Israeli TV sports channel. Less than two minutes before the end of the close game, the broadcast captured a loud boom, followed by a small cloud of white smoke and the sight of the guard falling on his face at the sideline. Horrified players, coaches and fans shouted with disbelief. The game was not resumed.

Medics worked on Glitzstein at courtside for long minutes, wrapping his stricken right hand in bandages, and then rushed him to Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, where surgeons operated for nine hours. The lead surgeon was Dr. Michael Chernofsky, who moved to Israel from New Jersey three years ago.

"He had severe damage to all of his five fingers. Two of them where in such a condition that there was nothing to do," said Ron Krumer, a spokesman for Hadassah Hospital. "(With) the other three they were able to do something to reconnect the tissue."

After the blast, police determined that a fan of the visiting team, Hapoel Holon, was responsible. They arrested Yossi Malakh, 20, and he confessed to throwing the explosive, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Hauled into court on Monday, Malakh, covering his face with his hood, cursed at reporters and Israel's left when confronted with TV cameras.

The incident refocused attention on growing violence around Israeli sports. On Nov. 4, fans of Jerusalem's Beitar soccer team provoked outrage by booing during a minute of silence for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated on that date in 1995.

Fans have been injured in fistfights in the stands, and smoke bombs have been thrown at basketball and soccer games.

The Sunday explosion was the most serious incident at a basketball game, and commentators called for the league to be closed down until it can provide security for its players and fans.

"We have deluded ourselves that we have all learned the lessons of the past," write Maariv columnist Ofer Shelah. "The only way for anything to change is to recognize that sport is dead, until something entirely new is done."

Israeli players and coaches union released a joint statement calling on fans to stop the violence.

"That is absolutely terrible. That is the worst thing I've ever seen happen at a game," Jamie Arnold, an American-born player for the Jerusalem team told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot after the game.

"Usually the basketball is the quiet side of the Israeli sport. It's something very, very unusual," said Yaron Michaeli, a spokesman for the Israeli Basketball Association. "We are going to be very, very tough with the situation." Police said they are re-examining security measures at sporting events, including a soccer match between Israel and Russia this weekend. For that game, the number of officers was already doubled because police expected a rowdy crowd, Rosenfeld said.

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