Tuesday 28 January 2020

Aleppo in mourning as child TV star is killed trying to flee

Qusai Abtini was the star of a black comedy about life in Aleppo. Photo: Bashar Sakka via AP
Qusai Abtini was the star of a black comedy about life in Aleppo. Photo: Bashar Sakka via AP

Josie Ensor

He was a child actor who rose to fame in Syria as the star of a black comedy about the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, which brought rare joy to the lives of its residents.

But the city is in mourning after it was reported that Qusai Abtini (14) was killed by a missile as he tried to escape along the last road out of the city before it was completely besieged by government forces.

Qusai had been travelling with his father, who managed to survive the attack that saw their car hit by four rockets.

The sitcom, 'Umm Abdo the Aleppan', was a light-hearted look at life in the conflict-ridden city, finding comedy as it showed residents dealing with everything from cut-offs in electricity and water, to factionalism among rebels, to the daily bombardments and violence.

It was filmed in the historic cobbled streets of Old Aleppo, even as it was subjected to almost daily to bombardment. With his talent for comic timing, fresh-faced and toothy-grinned Qusai quickly became a local celebrity.

His life and death underscored the suffering of Aleppans, whose city was once the commercial centre of Syria with a thriving, unique culture but has now been devastated by fighting.

He also helped put a face to the thousands of children who live in the city and who have seen some of the worst violence in the war.

Bashar Sakka, the sitcom's director, said: "Qusai was a very talented boy, an intelligent boy."

Qusai was 10 years old when the protests against Assad began in Aleppo. He quickly became entangled in the uprising, sitting on his older brother's shoulders as they marched against the leader's brutal rule.

As he grew older, he became an outspoken critic of the regime, appearing in opposition groups' videos condemning the destruction of his city by government forces.

His brother, Assad (19), a fighter in the US-backed Free Syrian Army, said: "He was loved by everyone, he used to lead the revolutionary protests in the streets. He was their poster boy.

"But he was my little brother."

The Syrian army and its Russian allies have been tightening the noose on Aleppo in recent weeks.

The government announced an opening of humanitarian corridors last Thursday, but only a few dozen families have so far left the city.

On Sunday night, Islamist rebels which control the southern outskirts of the city launched a massive assault to push regime forces back.

Irish Independent

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