BEIRUT • A young Syrian boy who captured the world's attention last year when images of his blood- and dust-covered face spread across the Internet has re-emerged this week - in interviews on news outlets with ties to the Syrian government.
The boy, Omran Daqneesh, came to symbolise the plight of civilians besieged by government forces in eastern Aleppo when his family's home was bombed in August and local activists shared photos and video of the frightened Omran on social media.
Now, he and his family have appeared in a series of televised interviews on news channels supportive of President Bashar al-Assad, apparently part of a calculated public relations campaign by the Syrian government.
These are the first images of Omran - his cheeks pudgier, his face cleaner - that have been broadcast since he was rescued by volunteer emergency workers. At the time, his family had refused to speak to the news media.
The latest interviews appear on outlets that favour the Syrian government: Russian-, Iranian- and Lebanese-run state television, and on Syrian channels that have backed Mr Assad in his six-year war against opposition forces.
Omran's father, Mr Mohamad Kheir Daqneesh, said in an interview on Iranian state TV that he feared for his son's safety after the first images spread across the Internet. "I changed Omran's name so no one will know him, and I changed his haircut, so no one will film him or recognise him," Mr Daqneesh told Mr Hosein Mortada, a journalist with Iran's Al-Alam News.
In the clip, Omran's once shaggy hair is cropped.
After the Syrian civil war began in 2011, the Daqneesh family stayed in eastern Aleppo despite an intensifying government siege, leading some to assume that the family supported the rebels. But many families stayed to protect their property.
Speaking to a pro-government news outlet in Aleppo, Mr Daqneesh criticised the opposition fighting to oust Mr Assad. "They are the ones who hurt us and our country and displaced the people," he said.
Moscow yesterday condemned a United States-led coalition strike on pro-regime fighters in Syria as an "act of aggression" that targeted the most effective forces battling "terrorists" in the war-torn country.
"It was an act of aggression which breaches the territorial sovereignty of Syria and, intentionally or not, targeted those forces that are the most effective in fighting the terrorists on the ground," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
The US-led coalition on Tuesday said it had destroyed a unit of pro-regime forces in Syria as they advanced near an area where coalition commandos have been training and advising rebels.
The assault marks the second time in less than a month that coalition forces have attacked pro-regime fighters as they headed towards the garrison inside a supposed "deconfliction zone" claimed by the US.
The strike prompted a military alliance fighting in support of President Assad to warn yesterday that it could hit US positions in Syria, saying that its "self-restraint" over US air strikes on government forces would end if Washington crossed "red lines".
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS