Footage of sobbing Syrian child misrepresented amid Israeli air strikes

  • Published on October 13, 2023 at 20:40
  • Updated on October 16, 2023 at 16:29
  • 3 min read
  • By Bill MCCARTHY, AFP USA
Nearly 1,800 Gazans -- including more than 580 children -- have been killed in Israeli missile strikes since the country declared war on Hamas following the militant group's unprecedented surprise attack in early October 2023. But a video circulating on social media does not show a young boy mourning his siblings in the Palestinian enclave; the footage was captured in Aleppo, Syria in 2014.

"Palestinian boy calls out to his sister who was murdered by an Israel attack," says an October 12, 2023 post sharing the clip on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Screenshot from X, formerly known as Twitter, taken October 12, 2023

Similar posts spread in several languages across X and other platforms, including TikTok -- part of a flood of misinformation since Hamas carried out the deadliest attack in Israeli history.

Hundreds of Palestinian fighters stormed across Gaza's border with Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,300 people under a barrage of rockets and taking approximately 150 hostages, including Americans and other foreign nationals.

Israel's retaliatory air raids have flattened entire neighborhoods in Gaza, the densely populated, impoverished territory governed by Hamas that has been under a blockade for years. The country has also cut off water, electricity and food while deploying soldiers around the Palestinian enclave and on its northern border with Lebanon.

The Israeli army warned Gazans on October 13 to evacuate before an expected ground offensive against Hamas. Thousands have already died in the conflict.

But the clip of the distraught child is unrelated to the recent escalation of violence.

A series of reverse image and keyword searches revealed the Aleppo Media Centre, a Syrian activist media group, posted the original footage to YouTube on February 14, 2023 (archived here).

The video's Arabic title says it shows a child in the Masaken Hanano district of Aleppo crying for his siblings, who the description says were killed in a helicopter raid reportedly carried out by Syrian government forces targeting areas occupied by rebels with barrel bombs. The boy calls for them as rescue teams pass.

A civil war erupted in Syria in 2011 after President Bashar al-Assad's regime repressed peaceful anti-government protests. The ongoing conflict has killed more than 500,000 people, reduced cities to rubble and displaced half of the Middle Eastern nation's pre-war population -- while also roping in foreign countries and global jihadists.

The Aleppo Media Centre told AFP it reviewed its video archives and confirmed the clip of the sobbing boy was shot in Aleppo in 2014 -- not during the recent conflict in Gaza. CNN and other YouTube channels reposted it at the time (archived here and here).

The Aleppo Media Centre also posted a picture of the child, identifiable by his clothing, to a since-retired Facebook page on February 16, 2014 (archived here).

Another Aleppo Media Centre photo provided to AFP shows the same boy.

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A man and three boys covered with dust sit in a state of shock following a reported air strike attack by government forces on the Hanano district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on February 14, 2014 ( ALEPPO MEDIA CENTRE / Fadi al-Halabi)

Fadi Al-Halabi, the filmmaker credited with taking both photos, told AFP in an October 14 Instagram direct message that he also captured the footage misrepresented online.

"This video was filmed by me and my friend in the city of Aleppo, in a neighborhood called Masaken Hanano," he said. "Assad's forces killed dozens and the sisters/brothers of the child who appeared in the video."

AFP previously debunked Arabic social media posts falsely claiming the boy was a victim of a deadly explosion in Beirut, Lebanon in August 2020.

AFP has fact-checked other misinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict here.

October 16, 2023 This article was updated in the 14th and 15th paragraphs to include comments from filmmaker Fadi Al-Halabi.

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