As Syria's military continues ramping up its efforts to crush a three-month-old popular uprising, the image of a 13-year-old boy who was tortured and killed has become a powerful symbol to protesters there.
Even as shelling intensified on Thursday in southern and central towns on Thursday, with the death toll in the recent days' fighting estimated at 96, according to the New York Times, the battered and mutilated corpse of Hamza Ali al-Khatib, shown in a video that was released online, has become a rallying point for anger at the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Guardian reported.
According to the New York Times:
“People are very upset about the death of the young boy Hamza,” said one man active in protests in Homs, who asked not to be named for fear of the security forces. “He was just a child. It is a crime, a serious crime.”
Hamza took part in a demonstration on 29 April that ended up with shooting and bloodshed at a military housing complex at Saida, outside Deraa, according to BBC News. What happened to him after that is unclear. Nothing was known about his fate until a month later, when his mutilated and battered corpse was returned to his family. Shortly after that, a video of Hamza was posted online, showing the unmistakable signs of terrible torture, the New York Times reported.
In the days since news of his death spread, more than 58,000 people have visited and supported a Facebook page memorializing the boy as a "child martyr." Demonstrators have protested his death, waving banners and photographs of him. Syrian activists marched on a day that some dubbed “the Saturday of Hamza.” His image has galvanized the uprising.
Protesters are preparing for a “children's Friday” to memorialize Hamza on Friday, June 3, the Guardian said, after the government announced Wednesday that it would investigate his killing, according to the Evening Standard.
As the violence has escalated in recent days, more children have been killed, the Evening Standard reported. A four-year-old girl was among 41 killed when government troops bombarded Rastan, an activists' group said Thursday. A local committee in Syria, which organizes and documents anti-government protests, said the shelling of Rastan killed several members of the same family early Thursday. Protesters say that at least 25 children are among the more than 1,000 dead since the start of the uprising.
But the Facebook page The Syrian Revolution 2011 addressed the regime: "Why do you hate our children? They are the symbol of our revolution. They are our freedom and the future of our country."