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Shanghai Shenhua striker’s close relative killed in Syrian civil war

The nephew of Shanghai Shenhua striker Firas al-Khatib has perished in the Syrian civil war, according to a harrowing report from the Oriental Sports Daily.

Former Syrian international Al-Khatib, Shenhua’s top scorer this year with 11 goals, told the Shanghai newspaper in an emotional interview that his nephew, who he grew up with and is of similar age to himself, is a commander in the Free Syrian Army and was killed in a military operation on Tuesday.

Up until now, Al-Khatib has been wary of declaring his position in the 18 month-long conflict. However, by disclosing details of his nephew’s death, his allegence would appear to be clear.

“I think it’s brave of me to reveal my political stance in a media interview, but my nephew is even braver. I’m just opening my mouth, but he is taking up arms,” Al-Khatib said, adding, “I have no way of describing my feeling now, I’ve lost not only a nephew but a brother.”

Al-khatib revealed the pair were inseparably close and grew up together playing football and once had a pact to both become professional players, before his nephew’s interest waned in later life.

“In the past few years I’ve been overseas playing football, and the Syrian civil war is becoming more and more out of control, many of my family have been escaping overseas, but my nephew insisted on staying behind,” Al-Khatib said, adding, “One day he was really excited and told me he had joined the Free Syrian Army, but from that day, the rest of us knew that sooner or later he may lose his life in the war.”

The Shenhua number 11, who joined at the start of this season, said his nephew was his best friend. According to the report, he would often take out his mobile phone and show pictures of the pair, and ask others if there was a family resemblance. His nephew’s wife gave birth to a daughter in September, and Al-Khatib revealed his cradle celebration after scoring a penalty in a match against Wuhan was dedicated to the new arrival. He vowed to provide for the girl from this point forward.

“I can’t close my eyes, because when I do I can’t help but imagine what his final moments were like. What was going through his mind, did he feel dread in his heart?,” said Al-Khatib, adding, “I hope his soul is now at peace.”

The striker, who once had a trial with former European Cup Winners, English side Nottingham Forest, spent most of his career playing in Kuwait. He is currently in the middle eastern state following the end of the Chinese Super League season which saw his side finish 8th.

Al-khatib said his family dare not return to Syria to take care of any funeral arrangements and he will soon rendezvous with them in Turkey where they are currently based.

The 30-year-old striker’s future with Shenhua is uncertain. He has indicated a desire to return to China next season, but with Shanghai Shenhua still suffering financial difficulties, his return is unlikely to be confirmed until not long before the new season begins next March.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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