But a video posted on YouTube showing his beaten corpse has sparked
international condemnation and become a rallying cry for Syria's protesters, who shouted this week: "We are all Hamza al-Khateeb."
Hamza's father, obviously under duress, appeared on Syrian State TV and
praised Assad for his leadership. It was widely reported that the government has threatened his family.
HRW said. "It is difficult to look at his injuries and not think about what he endured -- the boy's face is purple and swollen; there are bullet and burn marks on his chest. A narrator states that his kneecaps were also shattered and his penis severed."
"I have a child who is exactly that age and I just cannot comprehend the
cruelty. It is so hitting home," said Abdalla Rifai, of the Syrian Emergency
Task Force. The Washington-based non-profit group was established to
support the "democratic aspirations of Syrians" and is suing Assad's regime in U.S. courts for human rights abuses.
Assad inherited power in July 2000, a month after his father Hafez al-Assad died. The senior Assad had ruled for three decades and his son inherited a government led by the Arab Socialist Baath party and dominated by Alawites - a minority Shia sect that makes up between five and 10 per cent of the population in a predominantly Sunni country (74 per cent). The Alawites are regarded as extraordinarily clever in holding on to their minority power.
Despite the courage of the protesters and the ferocity of their clashes with government forces, Syria experts remain doubtful that there are enough demonstrators to outnumber the security services. As long as that situation remains, Assad may be able to control the uprising.
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