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October 25, 2014

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Sister says Canadian journalist killed in Syria

BEIRUT — A Canadian freelance photographer was killed in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday, his sister and activists said, the latest journalist to be killed covering a brutal war that has become the deadliest place in the world for them to operate.

Ali Moustafa died along with seven others when government aircraft dropped crude bombs and one exploded where was standing with firefighters in the rebel-held Hadariyeh area of Aleppo city, said an activist who identifies himself as Abu al-Hassan Marea.

Moustafa's sister, Justina Rosa Botelho confirmed her 29-year-old brother's death after activists sent her a photograph of his corpse. Moustafa was born in Toronto, Canada, the son of Pakistani and Portuguese immigrant parents.

"He just wanted the world to know about human rights and all the horrible things going on down there," Botelho said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "He was passionate for the world to know."

The family was not aware that he was in Syria. They were last in contact a week ago, when Moustafa told her that he was in Turkey, she said.

"He wanted to tell mom he was okay," she said. "He never told me he was in Syria. I guess he was trying to hide that."

Botelho said she and Moustafa shared the same mother.

Syria is the world's most dangerous conflict for reporters.

Since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, more than 63 journalists have been killed by both forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking his overthrow, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

They include Syrian cameraman Omar Abdul-Qadir who worked for the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen station. He was killed Saturday in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zour while covering clashes between government forces and rebels.

The most vulnerable journalists have been freelancers who do not have companies providing them with safety training, equipment or insurance. Moustafa sold photographs to the photo news agencies EPA and SIPA. Representatives of both companies said he had only worked with them briefly.

Barrel bombs dropped by Syrian military helicopters have also been extremely deadly for civilians, because they cannot be precisely targeted. The bombs in Aleppo have killed hundreds of people after blowing apart homes, vehicles and shops, and caused thousands to flee their neighborhoods.

Activist Marea said that on Sunday, a military helicopter dropped a barrel bomb on the Hadariyeh area. After bystanders and reporters gathered to see what happened, another barrel bomb was dropped, mortally wounding Moustafa.

In an interview in July 2013, Moustafa told a reporter that he first travelled to Syria in March 2013 after travelling to Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Egypt.

"I felt it was important to go there to cover the war firsthand," Moustafa told the publication. "In a way, I'm also fascinated by war not in the gory sense but in the way it impacts us as human beings. What does it take away? What does it leave behind? Most importantly, what does it transform us into?" he said.

Also Sunday, nearly 130 organizations called for immediate and permanent humanitarian access to civilians throughout Syria to help relieve the immense suffering caused by the country's civil war.

The 128 groups making the appeal include United Nations agencies and relief organizations from around the world.

A U.N. Security Council resolution last month called on Syria's warring sides to facilitate aid deliveries. The U.N. says more than 9 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Many of those most in need live in areas under government-imposed blockades, while others are in territory controlled by rebel groups.

Ryan Lucas and Yasmine Saker in Beirut contributed to this report.

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