Syrian soccer goalie-turned-rebel becomes icon

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In this Feb. 13, 2014 image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, revolutionary goalkeeper Abdelbasit Sarout chants slogans during a demonstration in Homs, Syria. He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power. More than three years later, the former goalkeeper – now an armed fighter – has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

In this Feb. 13, 2014 image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, revolutionary goalkeeper Abdelbasit Sarout chants slogans during a demonstration in Homs, Syria. He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power. More than three years later, the former goalkeeper – now an armed fighter – has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

In this Feb. 13, 2014 image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, revolutionary goalkeeper Abdelbasit Sarout chants slogans during a demonstration in Homs, Syria. He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power. More than three years later, the former goalkeeper – now an armed fighter – has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

This Dec. 15, 2011 image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, revolutionary goalkeeper Abdelbasit Sarout addresses the world and Muslims through video after an assassination attempt in Syria. He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power. More than three years later, the former goalkeeper – now an armed fighter – has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

In this Feb. 13, 2014 image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, revolutionary goalkeeper Abdelbasit Sarout chants slogans during a demonstration in Homs, Syria. He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power. More than three years later, the former goalkeeper – now an armed fighter – has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

In this Feb. 13, 2014 image made from amateur video posted by Shaam News Network (SNN), an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, revolutionary goalkeeper Abdelbasit Sarout chants slogans during a demonstration in Homs, Syria. He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power. More than three years later, the former goalkeeper – now an armed fighter – has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

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BEIRUT (AP) — He began as a local hero on the soccer field, playing for the most popular team of his home city Homs and rising toward national stardom across Syria. But when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began, Abdelbasit Sarout left all of it to lead peaceful protests, rallying thousands to demand Assad leave power.

More than three years later, the former goalkeeper— now an armed fighter — has become a charismatic icon of the Syria’s rebellion after surviving 2 ½ years under a suffocating military siege of his city. Thin and hollow-eyed from the ordeal, he emerged from the ruins of Homs earlier this month, one of hundreds of rebel fighters evacuated from the city under a cease-fire with government forces, and vowed to continue the fight.

The 22-year-old Sarout’s path traces the arc of Syria’s conflict. It began in March 2011 as joyous, Arab Spring-inspired street marches aimed at deposing an authoritarian ruler, but when opposition crowds were faced with a bloody government crackdown, many took up arms. The government has denied it is facing dissent, insisting from the start of the crisis that the army is fighting terrorists, who are part of the West and Arab Gulf plot to destroy Syria.

Since then, the conflict has

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