Star footballer turned rebel icon dies in Syria fighting

Abdelbasset Sarout (R) gained a new kind of fame when the popular uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s rule erupted in 2011. (Supplied)

A Syrian star football player turned fighter who became an icon of the revolt died on Saturday after getting injured battling government forces in the northwest, his faction said.

Abdelbasset Sarout, 27, once a well-known goalkeeper from the city of Homs, gained a new kind of fame when the popular uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s rule erupted in 2011.

He was dubbed the “singer of the revolution” for chanting songs at rallies that eulogized slain protesters or vilified the president.

Sarout, a commander in the Jaish al-Izza rebel faction, died two days after sustaining injuries in battle in the northern Hama countryside.

“Those who think Sarout has died are under an illusion. We will all remain Sarout,” Samer al-Saleh, a senior official in the faction said.

Battles intensified in northwest Syria on Friday after insurgents mounted an attack to repel an army offensive that has pounded the country’s last major rebel stronghold for weeks.

The violence in Idlib province and a strip of nearby Hama marks the biggest military escalation between Damascus and its insurgent enemies since last summer. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes, many of them sheltering at the Turkish border from air strikes that have killed scores of people.

Assad has reclaimed much of Syria after crushing rebel bastions with the help of Russia and Iran. The northwest corner remains the last big chunk in opposition hands, including Idlib and a swathe of territory to the north under the control of Turkey-backed rebels.

Sarout was among hundreds of thousands of people, civilians and fighters, shuttled to the northwest in recent years under surrender deals as the state recovered their home towns.

Sarout, who fought in his city of Homs, left in 2014 when such a withdrawal deal ended a bitter two-year siege.

Four of Sarout’s brothers, as well as his father, had all died in earlier fighting against pro-government forces.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:55 - GMT 06:55
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