Clashes near Syria's rebel Idlib enclave have claimed the life of a famed goalkeeper who became a rebel fighter. Abdelbaset Sarout first sang protest songs in 2011, as President Bashar Assad began his crackdown.
Syria's rebel group Jaish al-Izza said Sarout, one of its commanders, died at a hospital in Turkey Saturday from wounds sustained as rebels pushed to take three villages from regime forces in Syrian's Hama countryside.
The latest battle begun Thursday in northwestern Syria near Idlib - a rebel enclave on the border with Turkey - had claimed lives on both sides totaling more than 100, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights late on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Sarout was wounded in a push to take the village of Tal Maleh after weeks of regime bombardment in an area declared as a truce zone last September.
Read more: Russia shrugs off 'butchery' claim from Trump
Taken to a hospital in Turkey, which supports the Syrian opposition, Sarout had died from wounds to his stomach, a leg and hands, said Jaish al-Izza.
"He died hoping to realize the dreams of Syrians," said Hadi a-Bahra, a member of the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission.
Syria's state news agency SANA claimed Saturday that regime forces had repulsed the rebel attack launched on Thursday.
Sarout first rose to football fame representing Homs, and then his country.
When anti-Assad protests began in 2011, he became the "singer of the revolution," and then took up arms, a transition featured in the documentary film "Return to Homes" directed by Talal Derki that won the Grand Jury top prize at the 2014 Sundance film festival.
He repeatedly denounced rebel infighting and led a unit named after his home city.
Siblings, father previously killed
Four of his brothers and father had also died in Syria's eight-year-conflict, said the observatory. In 2014, Sarout, himself, was evacuated from Homs, his besieged home city, under a surrender deal with Assad's regime.
Tal Maleh lies on the southwestern edge of the Idlib region, where an alliance led by a former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) dominates over Syria's last major opposition stronghold.
Bombardment despite buffer
Assad forces, supported by Russian airpower, initiated a massive offensive in late April against rebels in Hama and Idlib, displacing tens of thousands of residents and leaving many living under olive trees and crammed into rooms.
At least 357 civilians had been killed during the five-week escalation, said the observatory on Saturday.
Advocates with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Saturday accused Assad's regime of systematically bombarding hospitals and clinics in a tactic also seen when it retook Aleppo in 2016.
"Even wars have rules," said Misty Buswell of the International Rescue Committee. Attacks on civilians had "happened with absolute impunity," she said.
The hostilities had hit dozens of health facilities and schools, said the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs /(OCHA).
"It's appalling ... and it must be brought to an end," said OCHA spokeman Jens Larke in Geneva on Friday.
Inside Idlib are some three million people, more than half of them displaced from other parts of Syria recaptured in recent years by the military.
ipj/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)