Syrian crisis: Air strike kills the last clown of Aleppo, Anas al-Basha

Syrian Civil Defence workers carry a victim on a stretcher after strikes on the Jub al-Quba district in Aleppo where people were killed in the streets. Photo: White Helmets/AP
Syrian Civil Defence workers carry a victim on a stretcher after strikes on the Jub al-Quba district in Aleppo where people were killed in the streets. Photo: White Helmets/AP

He was the clown who brought joy to the lives of children in a city that has been described as going through a "slow-motion descent into hell".

Social worker Anas al-Basha refused to leave the rebel-held Syrian city of Aleppo despite a merciless bombing campaign by Syrian and Russian forces that has seen the city of two million people disintegrate.

Instead, the 24-year-old dressed as a clown and provided counselling to hundreds of children who have been orphaned by the country's civil war that has torn apart a country for almost six years.

On Thursday, he was killed in an air strike presumed to have been launched by allied Syrian or Russian forces on the Mashhad neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo, the Associated Press reported, two months after marrying his wife.

"The last clown of Aleppo," mourned the Children of Syria Facebook page. "With him the besieged children of Aleppo laughed."

Anas was a director for the Space for Hope centre which helps other psycho-social support centres and 12 schools in eastern Aleppo. He sent his salary to his parents, according to AP, who left the city before the government sealed off the rebel-held eastern districts.

"He would act out skits for the children to break the walls between them," his supervisor Samar Hijazi told AP.

His death came the day after UN World Food Program spokeswoman, Bettina Luescher, warned Aleppo civilians were enduring a "slow-motion descent into hell".

In an attempt to put a halt to the relentless bombing campaign to enable supplies to enter the city, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien warned the Security Council Aleppo could become a mass grave.

"For the sake of humanity, we call on, we plead with the parties and those with influence to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard," he told the Security Council.

More than 40 people were killed during Wednesday's bombing in rebel held areas, the Syria Civil Defence group known as the White Helmets, reported.

They said the people were killed in government shelling as they roamed the streets of Jub al-Quba, an eastern neighbourhood, looking for shelter. In photographs published to social media, rescue workers picked through a street strewn with bodies lying next to suitcases.

Syrian state media said eight others were killed by rockets in government-controlled areas.

Syrian forces have rounded up hundreds of young men as government troops advance into rebel-held zones in embattled Aleppo, residents and officials said, prompting grave fears for the safety of those held. Families remaining in opposition territory said the phones of their sons, fathers and brothers had fallen silent.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said more than 300 people were missing from Aleppo. The men were believed to have been taken to a nearby air base for screening and interrogation. Activists said some were expected to be forcibly conscripted, an increasingly common practice as the Syrian army faces manpower shortages.

More than 20,000 people had fled to Aleppo's government-held western neighbourhoods, according to the Syrian Observatory, while another 30,000 had moved to areas held by Kurdish forces since forces loyal to President Bashar Assad - backed by Russian air power - overran a third of the rebel stronghold in recent days. Mr O'Brien said an estimated 200,000 remain.

with Agencies

This story Syrian crisis: Air strike kills the last clown of Aleppo, Anas al-Basha first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.