Dubai: In the 11th week of their uprising against the regime, Syrians finally found their revolutionary icon but at horrific cost.
The death of 13-year-old Hamza Ali Al Khateeb, from the village of Jeeza, near the southern revolt city of Daraa, has become a propelling force for the uprising against the rule of President Bashar Al Assad, who just a few weeks ago accepted brokers for the reform of the regime.
The boy went missing on April 29 and his body was handed over on May 25.
Al Assad, according to a local news agency, has ordered an investigation into the death of Hamza and tough punishment for those who shot the boy three times and mutilated his body. However, few Syrians believe that the investigation will bring to justice those behind the heinous crime.
Hamza was arrested near the Palestinian camp of Sida on his way to Daraa, carrying food and bread to the besieged city. He was arrested for "chanting ‘down with the regime'" along with a group of young protesters. The rest of the story remains a mystery.
However, what the family knows is that authorities in the city informed Hamza's mother to collect her son's body from the National Hospital for burial.
"The body was in a very bad shape. It had three big holes of [a] special kind of large-size bullets that exploded inside the body after penetration. The boy was shot at from three directions. One of the bullets [hit him] a little above the heart," according to Hamza's cousin, who saw his body at the family's home in Jeeza Village.
Covered in bruises
Hamza was covered with dark blue marks all over his body.
Marks on his neck suggested that he was strangled at some stage or that someone stepped on his neck while he was in custody.
"Other bruises, most probably from being subjected to beating, covered the body, and most importantly, his genitals were mutilated for unknown reasons," the cousin, who preferred not to be identified, told Gulf News.
Political analysts and commentators believe that Hamza will probably be the equivalent of Mohammad Al Bouazizi of Tunisia who sparked the Tunisian revolution after he set himself on fire and later succumbed to his horrific burns, or Khalid Saeed of Egypt who was killed by security forces in an unprovoked incident in Alexandria last year.
"What I can say at this stage is that Hamza will light the Syrians' way for freedom. He is like the Bouazizi of Tunisia or Khalid Saeed of Egypt. Hamza is very similar to Mohammad Al Durra of Palestine, the young boy who was shot by the Israeli troops while he was seeking protection from his father when the two were on their way back from the market," wrote Saleh Al Saeedi, a Yemeni writer and activist.
"Palestinians used Al Durra's image to show the world the brutality of the Israelis and that was a very effective tool for the uprising."
Hamza's father Ali Al Khateeb, who works in Kuwait, was also notified, according to relatives.
"We believe that he came back from Kuwait where he works in order to take part in [his son's funeral]. We have not seen Al Khateeb till now. Most probably he was arrested on his arrival by authorities [in order] to negotiate a deal with him," Hamza's cousin said.
Like many low-income Syrian expatriates in the Gulf, Al Khateeb works in Kuwait and sends his savings back home to his family. Hamza's cousin said authorities were nervous about the negative reaction sparked by footage of the dead boy on YouTube, which was broadcast in many countries except in Syria.
"They believe that Hamza's death was just a mere accident [during the ongoing unrest] and was exaggerated for hidden purposes," Hamza's cousin added.
Authorities, however, did not admit responsibility for Hamza's death. The forensic report, according to sources close to government, did not confirm torture. The report stated that the bullets which killed the boy where from unidentified sources and that the bruises were the result of officials keeping the body for a long time without burial.
But for some Syrians, Hamza's death at the hands of security forces in Daraa is unbelievable.
"I think Hamza was killed as he was taking part in [the] protests. The bit of [mutilating] his penis is not logical. Why would the security forces do something like this to a 13-year-old child? I think the opposition is fabricating stories in order to develop Hamza into a revolutionary icon," Juhainah wrote on the internet.
Dr Burhan Ghallioun, a politics lecturer in the Oriental Studies department of Sorbonne University in Paris and a specialist in Syrian politics, said authorities had intended to show the body of Hamza in order to shock the opposition and to prompt them to halt their protests out of fear. Ghallioun, who hails from Syria, told Gulf News instilling fear was part of the regime's strategy to cling to power.
"Taking into consideration the weak reaction of the international community to more than 1,100 people killed by security forces in the uprising, I think the release of the body will play more into the hands of the authority, [allowing it] to smash the uprising."