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Thursday, 21/07/2016 (updated) at 17:24 (GMT)

Boy beheaded by Syrian rebels was '19-year-old regime fighter'

A Syrian who was beheaded by a rebel group in Aleppo this week was a 19-year-old pro-regime fighter suffering from a growth defect and not a child, activists have claimed.

He was named as Abdullah al-Issa and that his family members said he was a 19-year-old who volunteered to fight with the regime's National Defence Forces militias.

Other social media users said he was from the Alawite village of Wadi al-Dahab in Homs, and photos emerged allegedly showing his funeral in the area.

Issa was said to be suffering from thalassemia, which led to a growth defect that made him appear to be a child. Photos shared of Issa online show him in military fatigues and carrying a rifle.

"This boy, whose [beheading] has caught the world's attention is my cousin Abdullah Issa from Wadi al-Dahab district of Homs, and he suffers from thalassemia," his alleged cousin - Loly Alamora ["Loly the cutie"] - wrote on her Facebook page.

"That is why he appears younger than his age, but he is 19-years-old."

Banners reading "I am Syrian" with Issa's picture were put up [Facebook]

The Syrian regime had earlier claimed that Issa was a 12-year-old Palestinian civilian who was on his way to hospital for treatment when he was picked up by militants from the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group.

His murder caused outrage, particularly as he appeared to be a child.

He was initially reported to be a child fighter with pro-government militia Liwa al-Quds.

Facebook account user Zoze Aisa - alleging to be Issa's sister - posted a series of angry comments about regime claims he was Palestinian.

"He is the son of Assad's Syria," she wrote, referring to the Syrian president.

A picture of Issa posing with weaponry was shared on the social media platform [Facebook]

"How can they turn a brave Syrian fighter into a Palestinian refugee?" she claimed.

The account user listed the exact locations where Issa had allegedly fought to "defend his country".

This included Palmyra, Jebel Shaar, T4 airport, Hama and Homs. He would spend month-long deployments on the front-lines before returning home for medical treatment.

Issa's cousin confirmed that he had suffered from the growth defect, but rather than staying behind to receive medical care chose to fight for Syrian regime forces.

An image of Issa's alleged national ID card was circulated online, showing that he had joined the ranks of the National Defence Forces militia umbrella in August 2015.

Issa was beheaded by members of the Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki rebel group in Syria's Handarat district, just a few miles north of Aleppo.

The rebel group - who have received US-backing in the past - said that the killing was a "mistake" committed by some of its members. The murderers are allegedly being held by rebels who are investigating their cases.

Additional reporting by Syrian photojournalist Ibrahim Jawdat.

A banner placed at Issa’s funeral reads “the martyred hero” [Facebook]