Images of dead children fuel protests

The images grow no less shocking with time — a gaping wound on a tiny skull, the hair matted with blood; a gunshot that pierced the skin of a small torso and went straight toward the kidney; and finally, the broken neck and severed penis of a 13-year-old boy, his mangled body contorted on a plastic sheet.

BEIRUT — The images grow no less shocking with time — a gaping wound on a tiny skull, the hair matted with blood; a gunshot that pierced the skin of a small torso and went straight toward the kidney; and finally, the broken neck and severed penis of a 13-year-old boy, his mangled body contorted on a plastic sheet.

The images of children activists say were killed in a government crackdown on protests are circulating widely among Syrians on YouTube and Al-Jazeera, Facebook and opposition websites. And they are stoking even more fury against a regime the opposition says has lost all legitimacy.

Syria’s government tried to blunt the anger with promises Wednesday to investigate the killing of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, whose tortured and mutilated body turned him into a symbol of the Syrian uprising.

But protesters deride that and other government concessions, including an amnesty that freed political prisoners on Wednesday and a committee to prepare for national dialogue, as nothing more than a ploy to buy time for President Basher Assad.

They say at least 25 children are among more than 1,000 dead, with government crackdowns that increase the toll almost daily.

The deaths of two girls — a 12-year-old killed Saturday when her school bus came under fire, and an 11-year-old shot to death Tuesday while her town was being shelled — appeared certain to inflame tensions. Already, a Syrian opposition page refers to the older girl, Hajar Tayseer al-Khatib, as “the flower of Syria’s martyrs.”

Military operations in southern and central Syria killed at least 33 people Tuesday and Wednesday, even as the government released hundreds of political prisoners. The government claims the revolt is the work of Islamic extremists and armed gangs.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Associated Press that more than 500 prisoners were freed, including some who took part in the latest demonstrations marking the most serious challenge to the Assad family’s 40-year rule.

Activists say 10,000 have been rounded up since the protests began mid-March.

Syrian state television on Tuesday said the amnesty covered “all members of political movements,” including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which led an armed uprising against Assad’s father in 1982. Membership in the party is punishable by death.

Both the U.S. and France said the amnesty would not be enough.

“We need to see all political prisoners released, and we need to see an end to the violence that Syrian forces have been continually carrying out against civilian populations,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington.

“The gesture of releasing a hundred or so political prisoners doesn’t go far enough, and I think that the Syrian people would feel that way.”

Toner said the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, met Tuesday with Syrian officials and raised the administration’s concerns over the crackdown, but he declined to elaborate.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told the France Culture radio station that Syrian authorities must be “much clearer, much more ambitious, much bolder than a simple amnesty.”

And in Syria, anger over the children’s deaths appeared unlikely to abate. Leading Facebook page The Syrian Revolution 2011 addressed the regime directly in a posting: “Why do you hate our children. They are the symbol of our revolution. They are our freedom and the future of our country.”

Many of the dead children were from the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising was touched off by the arrest of 15 teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on the walls of the provincial capital. At the time, those teens became the symbol of the new revolt inspired by the toppling of regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

Hamza, the 13-year-old boy, has become a new emblem of the uprising and thousands of people now carry his smiling photo during protests or post it as their Facebook profile.

A Facebook page set in his memory has more than 66,000 fans.

Al-Jazeera did not air the whole video, but a copy posted by opposition on YouTube showed that the boy’s penis was severed and his neck broken. The body, lying on a plastic sheet, appeared pink and the eyes were mottled with bruises and black marks.

Opposition groups blamed security forces for the boy’s death.

State television aired an interview late Tuesday with Dr. Akram Shaar, who examined al-Khatib’s body. He said the cause of the death was shooting, and three bullets had hit the boy’s body. He added that what appeared to be bruises and signs of torture were the result of natural decomposition since the boy died on April 29. His body was handed over to his family on May 21, state TV said.

The station also aired a recorded interview with al-Khatib’s father who said he was received by Assad this week. The father added that the president considers “Hamza as his son and was touched” by the death.

On Tuesday, UNICEF called on all parties to spare civilians, particularly children and women, and urged the government to investigate allegations of the detention and torture of children. Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday that hundreds of people were detained daily in the province of Daraa and “the detainees, many of them children, were held in appalling conditions.”

On April 22, two boys whose ages were 7 and 10 were shot dead by security forces in the southern village of Izraa. A video aired then showed a man ran carrying the body of a young boy, whose hair was matted with blood from a gaping head wound.

Zuhair Awad al-Amar, 8, died after he was shot near the kidney on May 21 in the southern village of Nimr. A YouTube video showed his injury as a narrator said “these are the reforms of Bashar Assad.”

————

Follow Bassem Mroue at http://twitter.com/bmroue

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A FedEx worker loads the 255,600 doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine which came from Europe into a freezer trailer to be transported during the COVID-19 pandemic at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada’s incoming supply of Moderna vaccine slashed in half through end of April

Procurement Minister Anita Anand says Canada’s incoming vaccine supply from Moderna will… Continue reading

Energy Minister Sonya Savage speaks during an event to mark the start of right-of-way construction for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, in Acheson, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. A committee that is supposed to consult Albertans on coal development in the Rocky Mountains won't be able to ask questions about water or land use. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta coal consultation terms of reference rule out land use, water concerns

Alberta coal consultation terms of reference rule out land use, water concerns

Brittany Lausen, RDC Students’ Association president. (Advocate file photo).
RDC Students’ Association takes aim at ‘period poverty’ in Red Deer

Vulnerable clients of several non-profits can access free hygiene products

A voter is shown at a Whitehorse polling station during the Yukon election on Monday April 12, 2021. An official count has confirmed a tie in the Yukon election, pushing the process to the next step of a judicial recount. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Kelly
Official count confirms tie in Yukon election, application filed for judicial recount

WHITEHORSE — An official count has confirmed a tie in the Yukon… Continue reading

Lieutenant Commander Nicole Robichaud welcomes members of the Liberian Coast Guard aboard the HMCS Moncton for training with Royal Canadian Navy off the coast of Monrovia, Liberia, Africa. (Contributed photo by Corp. Ryan Moulton)
Red Deer-raised woman finds her sea legs as commander in the Royal Canadian Navy

Cdr. Nicole Robichaud started out as a local sea cadet

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Britain’s Prince Charles, with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visits the gardens of Marlborough House, London, Thursday April 15, 2021, to look at the flowers and messages left by members of the public outside Buckingham Palace, following the death of Prince Philip. (Jeremy Selwyn/Pool via AP)
Princes William, Harry won’t walk side-by-side at funeral

LONDON — Prince William and Prince Harry won’t walk side-by-side Saturday as… Continue reading

Tilray products such as capsules, oils, and dried marijuana are displayed at their head office in Nanaimo, B.C., on November 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Vote by Tilray shareholders on Aphria merger deal delayed until April 30

NANAIMO, B.C. — A vote by Tilray Inc. shareholders on the cannabis… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adjusts his mask as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson answers a reporter's question during an announcement on the government's updated climate change plan in the Dominion Arboretum in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Wilkinson urges opposition leaders to stop stalling net-zero carbon emissions bill

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is urging opposition leaders to end… Continue reading

Gwynne Dyer
Opinion: Biden’s words have no meaning

“If they go, we’ll all have to go. That’s the reality of… Continue reading

opinion
Shadow pandemic: Domestic violence has risen worldwide

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a devastating mark on communities across the… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: MLAs expected to toe the party line

I am writing this letter to express my disappointment with my MLA… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green, top centre, prepares to begin practice during the NHL hockey team's training camp in Vancouver, on Friday, January 8, 2021. Media have been barred from the Vancouver Canucks first practice since a COVID-19 outbreak swept through the team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver Canucks’ next game postponed, delaying return from COVID-19 outbreak

Vancouver Canucks’ next game postponed, delaying return from COVID-19 outbreak

Most Read