(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
A promising young soccer player in the Lebanese Premier League has been killed while fighting for Hezbollah in Aleppo, exposing the human cost the Shi’ite militia is paying for its involvement in the Syria conflict.
It was not immediately clear if the death of Kassem Shamkhya, 19, would prompt questioning about what Hezbollah’s young fighters are doing so far from Lebanon’s borders – and from Israel – or whether, more likely, Shamkhya would be seen as a heroic martyr and exemplary figure for other Shi’ite youth.
Shamkhya was killed Thursday while repelling a military assault on the western flank of Aleppo, according to a Hezbollah source quoted by the website of Iran’s Press TV.
Shamkhya used to play for the Ahed team, which competes in Lebanon’s top division. The fan base is Shi’ite and the team is affiliated with Hezbollah.
Al-Ahed has won the championship four times.
“He will go down in history in the club’s records, because he was a hero on the football field just like on the battlefield in the defense of the homeland,” said al-Ahed secretary-general Mohammed Assi, according to Press TV.
“He was a talented player with huge potential for the club and for Lebanon, but he chose the route of jihad,” he said.
Shamkhya was born in 1997 in the south Lebanese village of Burj Kallawiyah and was brought up in Burj al-Barajneh in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Hezbollah has been involved in the Syria conflict for over three years, with its forces serving as an important support for the regime of President Bashar Assad in its battle against rebels. While Hezbollah justifies its role in Syria by saying it is aimed at preventing spillover of the fighting into Lebanon, in fact it has fighters deployed in Aleppo and other places far from the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah does not disclose the number of its fighters who have been killed in Syria. Estimates range from several hundred to more than a thousand.
While Press TV focused on Shamkhya’s perceived heroism, his death was seen in a very different light by Asharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper whose sympathies lie with the rebels fighting against Hezbollah.
Asharq al-Awsat refers to Hezbollah, which means “party of God,” as “the so-called Hezbollah.” It quoted what it said was an “anti-Hezbollah political analyst,” Ali Amin, as saying that the age of Hezbollah fighters in Syria has dropped to include 17 and 18 year olds.
Hezbollah has a “very strong campaign to mobilize based on sectarian or financial grounds,” he said. “The party is now considered the de facto ruler of Lebanon despite the presence of the army and security forces. It is no longer considered [just] a political, social and security organization. This allows the party to lure a large number of youth.”