The pro-democracy movement that continues in Syria, despite violent efforts by government security forces to stifle it, began in March. It started when a group of schoolchildren in the southern city of Daraa were arrested, detained and brutalized after writing anti-regime graffiti on a schoolhouse wall.
Parents and other protesters marched through the city demanding the children's release, as well as accountability for corrupt officials, and greater political freedom. The brutal response of the security forces fanned the flames of discontent across the country, with thousands demanding freedom and an end to authoritarian rule.
Syria's "Arab spring" was born; and with it, a horrific crackdown by the government in which more than one thousand people have been killed and ten thousand arrested.
Now the reported torture and execution of a thirteen year old boy from Daraa whom opposition groups say was picked up by security forces in April, and whose mutilated body was returned to his family a month later, has become a symbol of the brutality of the Syrian government. It has further enflamed Syrians against the regime of President Bashar al Asad.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of her concern for the young boy from Daraa, and what his death means for Syrians:
"What that symbolizes for many Syrians is the total collapse of any effort by the Syrian Government to work with and listen to their own people. . . . President Asad has a choice, and every day that goes by, the choice is made by default. He has not called for an end to the violence against his own people, and he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts."
Secretary of State Clinton named the young boy who was killed:
"Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. And I can only hope that this child did not die in vain, but that the Syrian Government will end the brutality and begin a transition to real democracy."
President Asad recently declared an amnesty for political prisoners in Syria, and there are reports that hundreds have been released. Thousands, however remain in prison, and government forces continue to shell Syrian towns, where civilians, including more children, have been killed. State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner says that what is needed in Syria is the release of all political prisoners, an "end to the violence that Syrian forces have been continually carrying out against civilian populations," and "meaningful movement towards reform."