The rescue of 5-year old Omran Daqneesh, pulled from the rubble of his bombed-out Aleppo, Syria, home Wednesday, was broadcast around the world, dominating front pages and drawing tears from television anchors.
For many, his image became a symbol, the human cost of Syria’s devastating war illustrated by a bloodied face and mop of hair, smothered in the dust of what once stood as his bedroom.
“This is Omran,” CNN’s Kate Bolduan said Thursday, her voice breaking as she introduced the footage. “He’s alive. We wanted you to know.”
Less widely shared was the story's devastating postscript. On Saturday, activists said, Omran's 10-year-old brother, Ali, died from wounds sustained in the same airstrike, launched by forces allied to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The muted response underscored the ephemeral nature of a story that goes "viral" and frustrated Syrian doctors and activists who had hoped the flood of media attention might translate into concrete action aimed at bringing their war to an end.
"Omran became the 'global symbol of Aleppo's suffering' but to most people he is just that — a symbol," wrote Kenan Rahmani, a Syrian activist based in Washington. "Ali is the reality: That no story in Syria has a happy ending."
As Ali's father received mourners Saturday at a temporary home in east Aleppo, doctors and activists shared images of more children — “the other Omrans” — on an online chat group:
- Abdullah, an 11-year-old pictured smiling in his favorite football shirt, was said to have been killed hours before the Daqneesh family’s rescue, hit by an airstrike as he walked past a local swimming pool.
- Aisal Hajar, 2, and Faisal Barakat, 6, were shown bandaged and bloodied in an Aleppo hospital, apparently the victims of attacks involving Russian-made cluster munitions.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, more than 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo since July 31 when a coalition of rebel groups broke a government siege of districts under its control.
The battle for the city, divided between rebels in the east and government forces in the west, has become one of the most important and destructive of Syria’s five-year war. It was not immediately clear whether Ali's death had been counted in the 168 civilians that the observatory said had been killed by Russian or regime airstrikes. Another 165 — among them 49 children — have also died after opposition shelling on the city's government-held western districts.
"Empathy and outrage must be matched by action,” said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake in a statement late Friday. “Children of Omran’s age in Syria have known nothing but the horror of this war waged by adults. We all should demand that those same adults bring an end to the nightmare.”
Such calls are likely to fall on deaf ears. The Syrian conflict has turned into a knotty patchwork of proxy wars, none of which are close to resolution. While the Assad regime is now propped up by the funding and military might of Iran and Russia, rebel opposition groups of varying ideologies are supported by the United States, Turkey and Persian Gulf states.
Peace talks have repeatedly broken down, reflecting the reservoir of mistrust caused by broken promises and war crimes on all sides.
Russia said Thursday it would stop attacks on Aleppo for 48 hours next week to allow delivery of humanitarian aid, indicating it would also prevent Assad's forces from bombing there, provided the United States could guarantee a similar pause by the “so-called moderate opposition.”
As it stands, that promise is unlikely to come to fruition. Activists said Saturday that another four children, two women and a man were killed in the rebel-held Old City overnight, after an airstrike destroyed their home.
Photographs appeared to show the sole survivor of the attack, Ali Abul Jood, heaving breeze blocks from the rubble of his home in search of the children underneath.
"We tell our children now that we’re sorry,” said a local English teacher, Abdulkafi Alhamdo. “They’re not American, they’re not French. When they die, you won’t see them on the news.”