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Aussie killed in Syria 'crossfire'

STEVE LILLEBUEN
Last updated 17:13 31/10/2012

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An Australian kickboxer believed to have been killed by crossfire in Syria had not joined rebel fighters in the ongoing conflict, the Islamic Society of Victoria says.

Roger Abbas, 23, of Melbourne's northern suburb of Meadow Heights, had shown no interest in taking up arms before he left Australia, said society vice president Baha Yehia, and he wasn't in Syria long enough anyway to be trained by the rebels before his death.

"He ended up overseas after hearing it was possible to do some aid work," said Mr Yehia, who knew Mr Abbas and his family through the Preston mosque.

"The situation is very desperate there. People have had to flee their homes and he wanted to go there and help out."

Mr Abbas had been at aid camps near the Turkish and Syrian border for about a month and is believed to have been shot and killed earlier this week.

"He got caught in the crossfire. It's a very hostile area," Mr Yehia said.

Mr Abbas's family is paying tribute to him as a hero who died as a humanitarian helping others.

A Facebook site in his memory has been shut down amid speculation that he had actually been fighting with Syrian rebels - suggestions his family denies.

"I would appreciate it if you guys can stop making rumours about my baby brother. Just to set the story straight, he was in Syria on refugee camps doing aid work where he got caught in crossfire," Mehedin Abbas said in a post.

"He got shot and taken to hospital where he died."

The kickboxer's cousin wrote on Facebook: "Roger Abbas passed away aiding the people that needed it ... my cousin is a hero in my eyes and all my family and friends eyes."

Mr Yehia said he realised it was hard to portray a kickboxer as a soft and caring person, "but that's what he was like".

"He was a very humble person."

It's not clear where in Syria Mr Abbas died.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is trying to verify what the family has been told, but is unable to confirm any reports at this time, including the Australian's death.

"We do not have a diplomatic mission or permanent diplomatic presence in Syria," a spokesman said.

The latest travel advice for Australians in Syria warns of civil unrest and threats of attacks on airports in Damascus and Aleppo.

"We continue to advise Australians not to travel to Syria at this time because of the extremely dangerous security situation, highlighted by ongoing military operations, protests and terrorist attacks," the latest DFAT travel warning said.

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- AAP

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