An embrace by two Syrian brothers on different Olympic teams in Tokyo has misled social media users into believing that they were reunited after years of separation. Alaa Maso is on the international refugee team, while his brother Mohammed is part of the official Syrian team.
The two were pictured hugging while preparing for the start of the games on Friday. The picture went viral on social media, sparking claims that they were finally reunited after years of separation in different countries. However, it was confirmed that the two brothers from Aleppo both live in Germany, having fled in 2015 from the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Alaa is an Olympic swimmer, while Mohammed is a triathlete. Their father was apparently a swimming coach when they lived in Syria.
Although their embrace attracted sympathy and support on social media, it was also criticised. The two are alleged to have fled from Syria for economic reasons rather than opposition to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Alaa's profile on the International Olympic Committee website acknowledges that he left the country after his training facilities were damaged in the conflict.
According to France24, the Syrian sports federation's communications manager, Safwan Al-Hindi, confirmed that Alaa chose to join the refugee team and that he was not rejected by the official Syrian team. Mohammed, meanwhile, has been condemned for competing with the Syrian team as Assad and his regime are still in power.
Omar Abu Layla, who heads the Syrian opposition news outlet DeirEzzor24 and spoke with Middle East Monitor earlier this year, said on Twitter that Syrian athletes who "love [the] Assad regime should live with it, not in Europe. Why don't you represent Assad regime from Damascus, not from Germany?"