Child star of Aleppo killed by missile as he tried to flee

Qusai had been travelling with his father, who survived an attack last month during which their car was hit by four rockets.

Published: 03rd August 2016 07:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd August 2016 08:14 AM   |  A+A-

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, bringing rare joy to its residents.

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

Qusai had been travelling with his father, who survived an attack last month during which their car was 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 cuts to power and water, factionalism, bombardments and violence. It was filmed in the cobbled streets of Old Aleppo, despite almost daily bombardment.

With his talent for comic timing and toothy grin, Qusai became a local celebrity. His life and death underscored the suffering of residents of Aleppo, once the commercial centre of Syria but now devastated by fighting.

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

Bashar Sakka, the sitcom's director, said he cast children because they are the witnesses to "the massacres committed by (President Bashar) Assad against childhood".

"Qusai was a very talented boy. We were looking for an intelligent boy," Mr Sakka said. "We wanted him to be free with ideas, and without fear of Bashar Assad's regime and its ruthlessness."

Qusai was 10 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 rule. As he grew older he became an outspoken critic of the regime, appearing in opposition groups' videos criticising the destruction of his city.

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," he said. "Every time I see kids in the street now I cry thinking of him. It feels like my heart will stop beating."

The Syrian army and its Russian allies have been tightening the noose on Aleppo. Surrounded from all sides, the rebel-held east has been besieged for more than two weeks.

The government announced an opening of humanitarian corridors last Thursday, but only a few dozen families have so far left. The United Nations has raised misgivings about the plan and US officials suggested it might be an attempt to empty the city so that the army can seize it.

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

A rebel military command centre that includes the newly formed Islamist group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, and Ahrar al-Sham said it had seized several army positions in the first few hours of the assault.

The same Islamist fighters yesterday claimed to have shot down a Russian Mi8 helicopter with five crew on board, 25 miles from Aleppo. Moscow began carrying out air strikes in Syria in support of Assad's forces last September.


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