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Tokyo Olympics: Two Syrian brothers embrace while competing on opposing sides

Alaa Maso and Mohamed Maso are representing the Refugee Olympic Team and Syrian team respectively
A photo showing Alaa and Mohamed Maso embracing on the first day of the Tokyo Olympics (Twitter)

Two Syrian refugee brothers have met on the sidelines of the Tokyo Olympics, with one representing the refugee team and the other representing the official Syrian team.

Alaa Maso, from the Refugee Olympic Team, was photographed embracing his brother Mohamed Maso as they both prepared to compete in the international tournament that opened on Friday.

Both brothers are originally from the city of Aleppo and now live in Germany. Their father was a swimming coach, a sport which Alaa took up, while Mohamed took up the triathlon.

According to his profile on the International Olympic Committee website, Alaa left Syria in 2015 after his training facilities were damaged during the fighting that first engulfed the country in 2011. He resettled in Germany and took up swimming again.

During the competition, he is swimming alongside another Syrian refugee swimmer, Yusra Mardini, who he has known since childhood.

Mohamed also left for Europe in 2015 after the war began to threaten his safety, writing on his website that "even after days of walking and being tired arriving at a refugee centre, he would put on his running shoes and run".

The photo of the two brothers hugging at the ceremony was praised by many on social media who said it proved the ability of hope to triumph over adversity:

"This photo is both sad and beautiful. They are the two brothers, Mohamed Maso (triathlon) who will represent his country Syria, and his brother Alaa Maso (swimming) who will be part of the refugee Olympic team," wrote journalist Hedi L on Twitter.

"The values of Olympism."

However, at least one user was critical of Mohamed's decision to represent Syria in the competition, considering the country's continued rule by President Bashar al-Assad.

"[Those] who love Assad regime should live with it, not in Europe," wrote Omar Abu Layla, CEO of the opposition news outlet DeirEzzor24.

"Why don't you represent Assad regime from Damascus, not from Germany?!"

Around half a million people have been killed in Syria and millions more forced to flee their homes since Assad's forces first responded with repression to anti-government protests in 2011.