At least 8 killed as Syrian protesters defy gov't crackdown

Latest demonstrations galvanized by revelations that authorities apparently tortured, murdered a 13-year-old boy last month near Deraa.

Protestors in Syria 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Protestors in Syria 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
At least eight people were killed Sunday as protests continued to rage in Syria in defiance of a sustained and brutal government crackdown. The latest demonstrations were galvanized by revelations that authorities had apparently tortured and murdered a 13-year-old boy last month near the protest hub of Deraa.
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The castrated and bruised body of Hamza al- Khateeb was returned to his family Saturday, Al- Jazeera reported. The boy’s relatives said he had been arrested along with about 50 other people on April 29 during a protest in Jiza, a town near Deraa in southern Syria.
The boy’s body bore evidence of torture – bruises, lacerations and burns to the feet, elbows, face and knees. Family members said the wounds are consistent with those seen of victims of electric shock devices and cable whippings.
The child’s eyes were swollen and black, and both arms showed identical bullet wounds.
An extremely graphic video showing the boy’s body was uploaded to YouTube last week. A Facebook page with the Arabic title “We are all the child martyr Hamza al-Khatib” had amassed over 37,000 “likes.”
On Saturday hundreds of protesters defied the ongoing military siege of Deraa to call for the ouster of President Bashar Assad and to express outrage at Khateeb’s apparent torture and murder.
“People are really furious about what happened to Hamza and it is another indication that the secret police and authorities are criminals that cannot be trusted to carry out any reforms,” a source in Deraa told Al-Jazeera. “It was the people of Deraa who started this revolution and the people of Deraa will not stop.
Despite their anger, people are still insisting on facing this barbarianism with peaceful protests. Despite the tears in our eyes we are facing them with smiles on our faces, because we know we are right.”
Al-Jazeera reported that after receiving his body, Khatib’s family was visited by Syrian secret police, who arrested the boy’s father. The boy’s mother said officers ordered her husband to say the boy was killed by armed Salafists, or ultra-conservative Muslims, whom Assad has claimed are behind the unrest.
She said the secret police had warned her not to speak to the press, threatening, “You know what would happen if we heard you had spoken to the media.”
On Sunday, Syrian forces killed two people and wounded scores more in the central town of Rastan, Reuters reported, quoting a witness. Troops backed by tanks encircled the town of 80,000 in the morning and began firing heavy machine guns in the streets.
“This is pure revenge,” the witness said, referring to thousands of protesters who demanded on Friday the removal of Assad in one of the largest demonstrations in the region since the uprising against the government erupted in southern Syria on March 18 and spread across the country.
Rastan, a relatively prosperous town in an agricultural region, is on the main northern highway leading from Damascus to Syria’s second city, Aleppo.
At least one man was killed and scores were wounded later Sunday as tanks entered the town of Talibiseh near the central city of Homs, residents said, in a further indication that the government is continuing to expand the breadth of its crackdown.
Reuters contributed to this report.