The face of the Syrian uprising

As President Assad offers an amnesty to protesters, footage is released of the mutilated corpse of a teenage boy

The Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, appeared on state television last night to offer a general amnesty to protesters who have taken to the streets for the past two months to call for an end to his rule.

Even as the President was speaking his security forces, which have cracked down on the demonstrations, showed no sign of stopping their bombardment of the central town of Rastan, launching volleys of shells and firing machine-guns at homes and buildings. At least one person was killed, according to human rights activists.

Army units began operations in Rastan and nearby Talbiseh on Monday. Civilians in the two towns, both a short distance from Homs – one of the centres of the opposition movement – came under heavy artillery fire as tanks and troops encircled the area. Last night there were reports that snipers had been positioned on rooftops in Rastan.

The television report said the President's amnesty covered what it described as crimes committed before 31 May. It could affect 10,000 people who have been rounded up during the protests, say activists.

This latest offer comes on the first day of an opposition-sponsored conference in Turkey. Those in attendance at the conference in Antalya said the meeting was an opportunity to show a unified front in solidarity with Syrian activists – though, in a reflection of some of the differences which exist between exiles, a number of figures did not attend.

Mohamad Al-Abdallah, a blogger once jailed by the Baathist regime for forming a committee to help the families of political prisoners inside Syria, was among those attending. He told The Independent that the eyes of the Syrian people were on the conference.

"Everybody feels responsible for the people in Syria," he said. "But we're not here to form any kind of political group like the Libyan opposition. That's not on the table."

Mr Assad, and his father before him, have ruled Syria for 40 years.

Activists say that 16 people have been killed during the heavy crackdown in Homs province in recent days. The violence in Rastan and Talbiseh followed a wave of public revulsion inside Syria over the highly publicised death of Hamza Ali al-Khatib, a 13-year-old boy from the beleaguered southern city of Deraa.

Hamza was among a group of people detained at the end of April when they participated in a demonstration in the town of Jiza. His family heard nothing about his whereabouts until last week, when officials reportedly arrived at their home and told them they could have Hamza's body back if they agreed not to publicise his death.

They consented, but were so horrified by the condition of the child's body when it was returned to them that they made contact with a human rights activist, who videoed the body and uploaded the footage on to YouTube.

The film, which has now been seen by thousands of people, shows Hamza's bloated and mutilated body in unflinching detail. As the camera pans over his corpse it reveals gunshot wounds, burns and a number of bruises inflicted by the young boy's torturers – presumably belonging to a branch of Syria's feared intelligence services. His penis has been severed.

According to a Syrian journalist based in Damascus, who asked not to be named because of fears over his safety, Hamza Ali al-Khatib has become the "face of the Syrian uprising".

"People are now protesting for him on a daily basis. Hamza has changed the attitudes of the nation, with more people who were pro-regime becoming anti-regime." He added that people inside Syria saw the young boy in the same light as Khalid Saeed, the Egyptian man who was beaten to death by police last year and whose case galvanised the opposition movement.

Razan Zaitouna, a human rights lawyer based in Syria, said: "The case of Hamza showed people that it could be their kids or family who are taken by the Syrian regime and that it's not safe anymore. It shocked everyone who had not made their minds up about what was happening."

According to Wissam Tarif, executive director of Insan, the Syrian human rights organisation, a number of protests have taken place across Syria this week that appear to have been triggered by the death of Hamza Ali al-Khatib.

"Hundreds of people walked through the streets in Damascus and Latakia carrying pictures of Hamza. People have gone on to the rooftops and shouted, 'Allahu Akbar, Hamza Hamza'. He has become a symbol for the revolution."

Last week, Amnesty International published a video purporting to show security forces shooting protesters dead, and attacking those that lay injured in the streets. The Syrian government has consistently refused to issue visas to the international media.

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week