Syrian child actor killed as he tried to escape Aleppo

Fourteen-year-old Qusai Abtini was killed as he tried to escape during the most recent shelling of the city.

    Syrian child actor killed as he tried to escape Aleppo
    Qusai Abtini, Syrian child actor who played a role in rebel-produced sit-com, was killed as he tried to flee Aleppo [File photo: AP]

    Qusai Abtini, a 14-year-old boy who played a role in the first television comedy produced in rebel-held parts of Syria, was killed when a missile struck a car he was in as he tried to escape the city of Aleppo.

    Abtini was 10 years old when protests first erupted against the rule of President Bashar Assad in 2011, and took part in the demonstrations, often sitting on his older brother's shoulders.

    He spoke in opposition videos, criticising Assad's government and describing Aleppo's destruction. At the same time, he took part in school plays.

    Afraa Hashem, his school's director, introduced him to Bashar Sakka, the director of the sit-com "Umm Abdou the Aleppan".

    READ MORE: Syria underground theatre tells stories of hope 

    "Qusai was a very talented boy," Sakka told the Associated Press news agency. "We were looking for an intelligent boy," he said from southern Turkey via Skype.

    "We wanted him to be free with ideas, and without fear of Bashar Assad's regime and its ruthlessness."

    "He was very ambitious," Hashem said. "Once he moved from acting in plays to TV, his dreams broadened and worked on transforming what he was living through into his performances."

    "Umm Abdou the Aleppan" was set in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, taking place in the stone alleyways of one of its old neighborhoods.

    The title character, Um Abdou, was played by a young girl named Rasha, while Abtini played her husband, Abu Abdou.

    The show aired in nearly 30 episodes, each about 10 minutes long, on the opposition station Halab TodayTV, and was filmed while Aleppo was subjected to almost daily bombardment.

    In one outtake, three girls performing a scene jump at the sound of an explosion, then continue with their lines.

    Children play all the roles, and the entire plot takes place in one of the historic stone houses in the old city of Aleppo, besieged by government forces in one of the worst battlegrounds of Syria's civil war.

    Sakka said he cast children because they are the witnesses to "the massacres committed by Assad against childhood".

    'You are a little hero'

    The sitcom was a light-hearted portrayal of life in the city, and depicted the daily struggles residents had to deal with, from cut-offs in electricity and water, to factionalism among rebels.

    The child actors provided a tone of innocence amidst the violence. 

     READ MORE: Growing up in Aleppo - 'We are scared of the bombs'

    Abtini's life and death shed light on the suffering of Aleppans, whose city was once a thriving cultural center and has now been torn to pieces by fighting, with whole neighborhoods left in ruin.

    Tens of thousands in the city have been killed since the summer of 2012, when Aleppo split into districts either held by rebels or the government.

    In recent weeks, government forces have tightened a siege of rebel-held sections, trying to cut off the last escape routes.

    During recent shelling, Abtini's home was hit and his father was wounded and needed a wheelchair.

    Early in July, Abtini's father decided to send his children out of Aleppo.

    In a video of a symbolic funeral that took place a few days after Abtini's death, his father is seen sitting in his weelchair watching the marchers go by, holding a placard reading, "Qusai, Abu Abdu the Aleppan. You are a little hero. You scared the regime with your giant acts so they killed you."

    Syria’s war: Confusion over Aleppo’s ‘humanitarian corridors



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