Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Abdelbaset Sarout: Syria's 'singer of the revolution' dies defending Idlib

Abdelbaset Sarout was a popular goalkeeper in Homs before taking up arms against Bashar Al Assad

Abdelbaset Sarout, left, sings at a rally to commemorate the start of the Syrian revolution, in Maaret Al Numan in Idlib province on March 15, 2019. AFP
Abdelbaset Sarout, left, sings at a rally to commemorate the start of the Syrian revolution, in Maaret Al Numan in Idlib province on March 15, 2019. AFP

A Syrian footballer turner rebel fighter who starred in an award-winning documentary died on Saturday of wounds sustained fighting regime forces in north-western Syria, his faction and a war monitor said.

Abdelbaset Sarout, 27, was a nationally recognised goalkeeper from the central city of Homs who became known as the "singer of the revolution" for chanting songs at rallies that eulogised slain protesters or vilified President Bashr Al Assad after the Syrian uprising broke out in March 2011.

Following a brutal government crackdown on peaceful protests, he took up arms against Mr Al Assad's forces.

Sarout starred in the documentary Return to Homs by Syrian director Talal Derki, which tracked his evolution from protest leader to fighter, and won a top prize at the Sundance film festival in 2014.

Jameel Al Saleh, the commander of the rebel faction Jaish Al-Izza, announced Sarout's death in a message on Twitter, describing him as a "martyr" who died "fighting for the sake of God".

The message was accompanied by a video showing Sarout singing "We will be back, Homs".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sarout was wounded in clashes in the northern Hama countryside in the night of Thursday to Friday while fighting in the ranks of Jaish Al-Izza.

"He died of his wounds on Saturday," the head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdurrahman, said.

Sarout was among more than 100 fighters killed since rebels launched a counterattack against government forces in the north of Hama province late on Thursday, after weeks of deadly regime bombardment on the Idlib region, according to the Observatory.

He left Homs in 2014 along with other rebels under a surrender deal with the regime to end a two-year siege of its historical centre, according to the Observatory.

His father and four of his siblings were killed during bombardment and clashes in Homs, it said.

A local artist paints a showing the late Syrian rebel fighter Abdelbaset Sarout in the town of Binnish in northern Idlib on June 8, 2019. AFP
A local artist paints a showing the late Syrian rebel fighter Abdelbaset Sarout in the town of Binnish in northern Idlib on June 8, 2019. AFP

On Saturday, Syrian activists and opposition figures mourned his death on Twitter.

"The goalkeeper of freedom, the icon of Homs, the bard of the squares, the unforgettable sound of the Syrian revolution has been martyred," researcher and opposition supporter Ahmad Abazeed said.

Hadi Al Bahra, a member of the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission, posted: "Sarout will remain alive."

"He died hoping to realise the dreams of Syrians," he added.

Sarout was wounded in the push to take the village of Tal Maleh from regime forces, the Observatory said.

The village lies on the south-western edge of the Idlib region, which is dominated by an alliance led by Syria's former Al Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS).

Almost half of the region's three million residents have been displaced from other parts of the war-torn country, including after deals to return government control to those areas.

The Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a months-old buffer zone deal, but the regime and its Russian ally have ramped up air strikes and rocket fire on the area since late April.

More than 300 civilians have been killed in that bombardment, according to the Observatory, and the United Nations says the violence has forced 270,000 people to flee their homes.

Updated: June 8, 2019 10:18 PM

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