Region | Syria

Young boy tortured to death becomes symbol of uprising

13-year-old Hamza Ali Al Khateeb was shot three times and his body was mutilated

  • By Duraid Al Baik, Associate Editor
  • Published: 00:00 May 30, 2011
  • Gulf News

The face of an uprising
  • Image Credit: AFP
  • A picture of a smiling boy has emerged this week as the rallying symbol in the current antiregime uprising in Syria. It is the picture of 13-year-old Hamza Ali Al Khatib, who is believed to have been killed in the custody of the security forces. Footage leaked to the media shows a mutilated little body with three bullet holes. President Bashar Al Assad has already ordered an investigation into Hamza’s death. But like Mohammad Bouazizi, who inspired the Tunisian evolution and Khaled Saeed whose death led to the Egyptian revolution, Hamza Al Khatib has become the face of the Syrian uprising.
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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.

Unbelievable

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."

Comments (5)

  1. Added 09:43 May 30, 2011

    I am really bothered about what happened to the boy. Indeed, having an icon of repression would definitely encourage more people to fight for their freedom. Similar to other revoultions, not only in the Middle East, but other countries as well. However, he's not the only one who gave his life for the country's freedom. There were hundreds of people, but he represents innocence and the new generation of the Syrian people, which eventually instills to the minds of others that if they will not fight to death today, there will be a very vague future. I am hoping that the situation will not become worse and I wanted to let the people of Syria know, that the world is a witness to your government's crimes against humanity and rest assured your country will be liberated.

    Mark Philip, Ajman, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 08:49 May 30, 2011

    Dear Editors, I wonder how a political leader of the country can remain as the leader of his country if his only goal is to give orders to these atrocities?

    Heikki Nojonen, Kangasniemi, Finland

  3. Added 07:55 May 30, 2011

    I think the brutal regime in syria will do more crimes in order to supress this uprising, and to stay in power. As long as the international community, including the arabic and islamic community,do not interfere and show more serious stand, and take actual steps in order to delegitimize this regime, there will be no limit for blood shed and killing of people in Syria.

    adam, damascus, Syrian Arab Republic

  4. Added 07:28 May 30, 2011

    What I saw was a terrible, This forces & Goverment doesn't have heart? they don't have children, they don't have family? After all how will they stand in front of Almighty Allah on the day of judgment? Power & poverty is the main reason for all this problem. I hope & pray for the Syrian good people a bright future & door of sucess will open soon. Let other people voice up to stop this kind of aggresive in syria or May Allah send his miracle power as he did in past to other nations. May Allah except our prayers. Ameen!

    Abdul Latif, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 06:09 May 30, 2011

    It better for the sake of all the children

    samir Shakfeh MD, Florida, United States

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