Syrian war: Aleppo residents play football together after government invitation

Some civilians in east Aleppo dismiss invitation as a publicity stunt but match takes place

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The Independent Online

Civilians originally from both sides of Aleppo have reportedly taken part in a football match organised by the Syrian government after rebel forces turned down the invitation, as part of a supposed effort to achieve “national reconciliation”.

Leaflets were distributed across the divided city by members of Bashar al-Assad's regime encouraging residents and rebels to come together for a “friendly” game at the al-Hamadaniah sports arena.

Former residents of opposition-controlled territories who now live in western Aleppo were reported to have formed the "east" team, with no one leaving besieged areas to take part.

Social media posts and mass texts had claimed the government would allow safe passage to the game for rebels in the east of the city through prearranged routes.

“Fighters in Aleppo's eastern neighbourhoods," read one of the invitations, "Aleppo Governorate invites you to participate in a friendly football match, as a goodwill initiative in the context of national reconciliation. Any citizens can take part in the match."

Some civilians in opposition-controlled east Aleppo were quick to dismiss the invitation as a publicity stunt, but online reports suggest the match took place as planned at noon on Thursday.

Photographs showed the two sides lining up next to the Syrian flag before the start of the match - a rare show of unity between people from across Aleppo. Other images showed a packed crowd watched the match at the 8,000-capacity stadium. Those who took part in the match were awarded medals at the final whistle.

Twitter user ‘Maytham’, who attended the match, told the Independent rebels refused President Assad’s offer, and the match was contested between government soldiers and “IDPs (internally displaced people) from eastern neighborhoods” who had fled to the west of Aleppo.

President Assad’s forces have been bombarding eastern Aleppo with renewed intensity for a number of weeks and recently crushed a rebel offensive aiming to break the government's siege of the area. The match was criticised by locals at a time when Syrian hospitals continue to be filled by victims of rocket attacks from both sides, as well as being severely damaged by bombardment.

Maytham said certain participants at the football match from east Aleppo requested for photographs not to be taken of them, as they feared their families might be targeted if it was shown they had taken part. Players from the east played in a white strip, while those from the east played in red.

“It’s just a media hype to show the criminal regime in a good light in front of the international community,” one Aleppo resident told the Telegraph. “They will claim the rebels don’t accept any initiative of good will when they are invited by the killers to play football on the remains of the injured and the dead.” 

In August, Isis reportedly outlawed football referees in one of its Syrian strongholds because the officials implement Fifa rules “in violation of the commands of Allah”.