News / Middle East

Syrian Demonstrators Galvanized by 13-Year-Old's Death

Syrian families and their children carry pictures of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib and candles during a protest in front of the United Nations building in Beirut, Lebanon, June 1, 2011
Syrian families and their children carry pictures of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib and candles during a protest in front of the United Nations building in Beirut, Lebanon, June 1, 2011

As demonstrations erupted Friday across Syria, child deaths are being marked after the United Nations agency UNICEF said at least 30 children have been shot dead in anti-government protests since they first started. A rallying point is Hamza al-Khatib, a 13-year-old boy who was killed in April, and who the opposition says was tortured.

The country’s opposition movement marked Friday as “Children’s Friday” - a tribute to the dozens of young people who have died since demonstrations began in March.

The focus, said Neil Sammonds of the human rights group Amnesty International, is one death, that of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, who died under mysterious circumstances.

“So he is one of 30 or more children who have died in the protests so far, all of them believed to have been shot by the security forces," said Sammonds. "But in his case, most tragically and horrifically, he appears to have been tortured to death."

Hamza al-Khatib disappeared during an April protest, where the government says he was shot and killed. The opposition says marks on his body, however, which was returned to his family in May, show the boy was tortured.

Unverified videos that appear to show his body have been posted on the website YouTube and the images have stoked fury in Syria.

Speaking Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also voiced her regret.

“The tragedy of the young boy, Hamza Ali al-Khatib, symbolizes for many people around the world the total collapse of any effort by the Assad government to work with their own people,” said the secretary of state.

The government denies that Khatib was tortured and says it will investigate his death.

Nonetheless, Sammonds said his image could become a rallying point for Syria’s opposition.

“If we compare that with Tunisia, people have talked a lot about the case of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor of vegetables," said Sammonds. "After he set himself alight, the Tunisian protests went almost like wild fire, very quickly through the country, including to the capital, Tunis, in just a matter of weeks. That hasn’t happened yet, but perhaps through this very sad case of Hamza, we may see a move towards some kind of tipping point for change in Syria.”

The government of al-Assad made concessions this week, freeing hundreds of prisoners in an amnesty, and setting up a committee for national dialogue.

But the country’s exiled opposition, meeting this week in Turkey, said Assad should step down immediately. They vowed Thursday to work to bring down his government.

Their effort may be boosted by the symbolic power of Khatib’s death, but it’s not likely to be enough to bring down the government, said David Hartwell, at the IHS Jane’s analysis group in London.

"If Khatib’s death was going to spark off a national uprising, if you like, it probably would have done so by now," said Hartwell. "I think what remains the key is the sentiment on the street in Damascus particularly, and the ability of the regime to keep the sources of protest and the sources of discontent separate from each other. If it can do that it should be able to crack down fairly successfully."

With more deaths reported Friday in Syria, it’s yet unclear how severe that crackdown will be.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs