Syrian footballer and 'singer of revolution' killed in conflict
A goalkeeper who became an icon of the rebellion against Syrian president Bashar Assad has died of wounds suffered in a battle with government forces, a rebel spokesman said.
Abdelbaset Sarout, 27, who rose to fame as a player for his home city of Homs, joined peaceful protests against Assad in 2011 and was known as the "singer of the revolution".
He later took up arms as the country slid into civil war. Four of his brothers and his father were killed in the war.
Captain Mustafa Maarati, spokesman for the Jaysh al-Izza rebel group, said that Sarout died from wounds sustained two days earlier while fighting in the northern Hama province.
The government had declared Sarout a traitor, banning him from football and offering a reward for information leading to his arrest.
He remained an icon among Syria's opposition as the rebellion came to be dominated by hard-line Islamist groups.
Many activists and rebels came to refer to him as the "guardian of freedom", a play on the Arabic word for goalkeeper.
"He was both a popular figure, guiding the rebellion, and a military commander," said Maj Jamil al-Saleh, leader of Jaish al-Izza group, in which Sarout was a commander.
"His martyrdom will give us a push to continue down the path he chose and to which he offered his soul and blood as sacrifice."
Fighting has escalated in north-western Syria, the last major rebel stronghold, since April. More than 300 people have died and 300,000 have been displaced as troops have pushed into the rebel enclave.
Capt Maarati said Sarout was wounded in the leg, stomach and hand, and died in hospital in Turkey.
Turkey supports the Syrian opposition.
Sarout was among hundreds of rebel fighters who were evacuated from Homs in 2014 after a government siege ended with a surrender deal and a ceasefire.
In Jaish al-Izza, he led a unit named after his hometown. He repeatedly denounced rebel infighting and called on Syrians to unite against government forces.
In a recording in 2015, Sarout denied he had joined any of the radical groups that proliferated in Homs and northern Syria as the war dragged on.
But like many rebels, he adopted more religious references in online videos after initially sticking to nationalist themes.
He had recently appeared in a video from Hama, saying he would fight as though it were his hometown.