Beirut-The death of a young Lebanese footballer while fighting alongside the so-called Hezbollah in Syria was a sign of the depth of the crisis that the party is suffering from.
Qassem Shamkha, 19, a footballer in Lebanon’s Premier League, has joined dozens of young Hezbollah militants who have been killed in Syria. Some of them are university students and others are Hezbollah field commanders.
Anti-Hezbollah political analyst Ali al-Amin said that the age of Hezbollah fighters in Syria has dropped to include 17 and 18-year-olds.
The party has a “very strong campaign to mobilize (militants) based on sectarian or financial grounds,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
“The party is now considered the de facto ruler of Lebanon despite the presence of an army and security forces. It is no longer considered a political, social and security organization,” al-Amin said.
“This allows the party to lure a large number of youths,” he added.
Since 2009, Shamkha had played for Hezbollah’s Al-Ahed football club. The 19-year-old was killed on Thursday in the battles in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
Agence France Presse quoted a source close to Hezbollah as saying that Shamkha was killed “while fighting off a rebel attack Thursday on western Aleppo,” referring to the regime-held side of the city.
The midfielder was born in 1997. He is from Burj al-Barajneh, a southern suburb of Beirut where support for Hezbollah is widespread.
“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 defense of the homeland,” Al-Ahed secretary general Mohammad Assi told AFP.
“He was a talented player with huge potential for the club and for Lebanon, but he chose the route of jihad,” he added.
Several thousand Hezbollah militants are fighting on behalf of the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, across the war-torn country.
Hezbollah has never provided an official death toll for its fighters, but monitors estimate that several hundred have been killed in Syria, including top commanders.
According to al-Amin, the party has lost between 1,000 and 1,500 fighters in the war in Syria. He said around 6,000 have also been injured.