Video: Syrian crackdown now includes children

  1. Closed captioning of: Syrian crackdown now includes children

    >>> chief foreign correspondent richard engel is in tripoli. the targeting ? of children has been, you know, appalling and brought more world attention to this outrageous situation in syria . what is the latest that you're hearing from your listening post ?

    >> reporter: well, it is almost hard to know where to start. if we start in syria , there has been more violence today. really destabilizing violence. and emotional scenes partly because so many children have been killed. you mentioned that 11-year-old girl. today there is a funeral for a 13-year-old boy. and he was buried and there were large crowds there to support his family. but also to express anger. the body of this boy has been circulated around the internet. it apparently shows severe torture at the hands of syrian government officials . the boy was shot through both arms, shot through both legs, had his genitals cut off and just a horrific image circulating online. and it has become a rallying cry for people and today he was finally buried. so the protests are no means over in syria . and every time there is another child in -- who is killed or when the body is circulated online, it just adds more fuel to the fire , andrea.

    >> and just heart breaking, horrific as you point out. we had word from the white house today that john brennan , the counterterrorism official from the white house , the nsc, is traveling in the region. he's going to sudan, saudi arabia , to the uae and we had word from hillary clinton , secretary of state today, about the continued unrest in yemen . let me play that and ask you about it on the other side.

    >> we cannot expect this conflict to end unless president saleh and his government move out of the way to permit the opposition and civil society to begin a transition to political and economic ? reform.

    >> of course, the united states has been saying a lot of things about yemen . but there has been no impact on president saleh . what is the latest from yemen ?

    >> well, the situation in yemen has completely deteriorated. the united states , as you know, was involved in trying to negotiate a deal for president saleh to leave power. saudi arabia was also involved. that deal has completely broken down and now there is heavy fighting on the streets of sana and has been going on for the last 24 hours or so between government forces and i should say those are still the government forces that are loyal and military units that remain loyal because there have been major divisions within the yemeni forces, but the ones that are still loyal are now fighting against a group of tribes that are well armed, that are motivated, and have decided to try and drive out saleh by force. and those tribesmen who are led particularly by akmar, one of the tribal leaders in that country, are well armed and numerous. they're one of the most powerful organizations in the society. we have the protesters calling on the government to step down. we have the united states and that click you just played saying that the government needs to move aside. and now this powerful faction of tribal leaders taking up arms to try and push the president of yemen out of power.

    >> and richard, while you've been on the air with us, reuters is reporting a large explosion outside of a hotel in benghazi. i want to give you a chance to go off and do some reporting and we don't know any details about this at all except that it is located in benghazi and it is a large hotel and an explosion. so i know we'll see more from you throughout the day on "nbc nightly news."

    >> we'll be looking into that, thank you.

    >> thank you, richard.

NBC News and news services
updated 6/1/2011 5:20:05 PM ET 2011-06-01T21:20:05

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 killed in a government crackdown on protests are circulating widely among Syrians on YouTube and Al-Jazeera, Facebook and opposition websites.

NBC News' Richard Engel said images and videos have stoked even more rage against a regime the opposition says has lost all legitimacy. Engel said Syria has been consumed by "a destabilizing violence and emotional scenes partly because so many children have been killed."

Syria's government tried to blunt the anger with promises Wednesday to investigate the killing of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, who 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.

Image: Syrian children carry pictures of slain Syrian boy
Jamal Saidi  /  Reuters
Syrian children carry pictures of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib and hold candles during a protest in front of the United Nations building in Beirut June 1, 2011.

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."

PhotoBlog: Syrian children protest boy's killing

Military operations in southern and central Syria killed 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.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the amnesty was too late.

Juppe, speaking on the France Culture radio station, said on Wednesday that Syrian authorities must be "much clearer, much more ambitious, much bolder than a simple amnesty."

And the anger over the children's death appeared unlikely to abate.

'Why do you hate our children'
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-TV 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."

The Associated Press and NBC News' Richard Engel contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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