Thousands of people flocked to the funeral on Sunday of a Syrian football star turned fighter who became an icon of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Abdelbasset al-Sarout, 27, died on Saturday from wounds he sustained in northwest Syria, where an army offensive has pounded the last major rebel bastion for weeks.
Once a well-known goalkeeper from the city of Homs, Al-Sarout gained a new kind of fame when the popular uprising against al-Assad’s rule erupted in 2011.
He was dubbed the “singer of the revolution” for chanting ballads at rallies that eulogized slain activists and vilified the president.
Al-Sarout was moved from a hospital in Turkey, which backs the opposition, across the border on Sunday, with a convoy of cars and motorcycles following the coffin into Syria.
People chanted, honked and waved rebel flags on the way to the funeral in the border town of al-Dana, where one of Al-Sarout’s brothers is buried.
Crowds stood on the roofs to watch Al-Sarout’s body, wrapped in white, being carried through the town. Rebels from his faction, Jaish al-Izza, fired into the air.
In the mosque, men including fighters in combat uniform kneeled in front of his body to pray, some of them weeping.
“We all know Al-Sarout’s songs and golden vocals. Today is a big loss, a sad day for the Syrian revolution. We lost one of its icons,” said Ali al-Zajel, an activist at the funeral.
Al-Sarout was among hundreds of thousands of civilians and insurgents shuttled to the northwest under surrender deals as the army reconquered their hometowns.
He, who fought government forces in his home city, left under such a deal in 2014 after a bitter two-year siege.
As rebel factions struggled with infighting and the growing influence of extremists, Al-Sarout was accused of switching his allegiance to ISIS extremist group, which he denied in a video in 2015.