Damascus: New photos and video have surfaced of Omran Daqneesh, the little boy whose bloodied, dusty face became a symbol of civilian suffering during the siege of Aleppo 2016.
Omran’s family talked to Syrian state media and pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV in interviews broadcast on Monday.
In the footage, Omran is healthy and well, cuddling his father and siblings, playing with a ball and waving a Syrian regime flag.
The interviews are the first time the little boy has been in the public eye since since photos and video of him in the back of a White Helmets ambulance after an air strike shocked the world in August 2016. His older brother Ali later died of wounds sustained in the same bombing.
Speaking to reporters, Omran’s father said that the family had refused interviews with pro-opposition outlets and kept a low profile until the siege barricades fell at the end of last year and the family crossed into government-held territory.
In an interview with Kinana Alloush, a presenter for Syrian government-run TV who once took a selfie with the corpses of opposition fighters, Omran’s father said that his son had been used as a “propaganda tool” by rebel forces, and that the family had always been pro-regime.
He also said that he did not hear a plane above the house before the strike that injured Omran and killed his brother.
“They wanted to trade in his blood and published his photos,“ he said.
The family used a different name for Omran and cut his hair in an effort to shield him from media and individuals who threatened to kidnap him.
Several rebel sources claimed that the family had been forced to give the pro-government interview. “If I were in Omran’s father’s shoes and read this, I would feel my son Ali is being killed [again],” one Idlib-based activist said.
In the past the Syrian government has offered rewards to residents of cities which have fallen back under its control to speak publicly about rebel abuses.
Aleppo fell to government forces and foreign militias in December 2016 after an extended siege and Russian-backed bombing campaign condemned by the international community.
The recapture of the city – which was the last urban rebel stronghold – marked the definitive turn in the six-year-old war in President Bashar al-Assad’s favour.