Rebels fighters in Syria walk through a destroyed building outside Maraat al-Numan in 2012.© AFP 2013/ John Cantlie
WASHINGTON, September 3 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) – As the international community and US Congress debate the use of military force in Syria, the Syrian-American population has found itself sharply and passionately divided over whether such action will resolve the deadly civil war that is raging in their homeland or virtually assure that the violence and turmoil continue.
“Congress must show the world that America is not afraid to act when a brutal dictator continues to disregard US warnings and defy international norms against the use of chemical weapons,” said the nonprofit Syrian-American Council (SAC) in an action alert sent out Tuesday.
“US action must be decisive and strategic enough to end the war in Syria,” the group said in the alert, asking members to call on Congress for “decisive and strategic” US intervention that will “pave the way” for a Syrian future that doesn’t include the current president, Bashar Assad.
Civil War has been raging in Syria since early 2011 with estimates putting the death toll at more than 100,000. While the US and several other nations have provided humanitarian aid, they have not intervened with military force.
But the alleged chemical attack on civilians last month – forbidden under the Chemical Weapons Convention – killed more than 1,400 people including hundreds of children, according to a US intelligence report.
The report builds a case that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack, and prompted calls for quick retaliation.
“We know the regime owns chemical weapons and the regime is capable of firing them, so I’m very confident from the history that the regime did it, because it’s a sophisticated weapon,” said Doured Daghistani, a pediatric oncologist in Florida and a Syrian-American who came to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in 1990.
“It was fired by missiles, and it killed an opposition area. Why rebels would attack themselves?” he asked during an interview with RIA Novosti.
Doured said his brother recently fled from Syria to Lebanon with his family, but their 94-year-old father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, remains in Damascus along with Doured’s sister, who cares for him.
“We can’t move them, and the last thing I want is for them to die with a chemical weapons attack, him and my sister. That’s just my nightmare,” he said.
Doured serves on the SAC board, which has been active, along with several other Syrian-American groups across the US, in organizing rallies to call for US military intervention.
“A hundred-thousand people have died, and now you have chemical weapons. It’s crazy! It’s mad! And it’s time to stop the madness,” he said.
But other Syrian-Americans are just as emphatic, insisting the Assad regime is not responsible for the chemical weapons attack.
“I don’t think the chemical was used by the government at all. They didn’t even use it in the war against Israel when they were fighting,” said Rev. Anthony Sabbagh, who was born in Syria and leads a largely Syrian-American congregation at St. George Orthodox Church in Pennsylvania, home to one of the largest groups of Syrian-Americans in the US.
“Our government must be smarter than that!” he added during an interview with RIA Novosti.
The church is raising funds to help Syrian refugees, and offers graphic details about Christians – including clergy – they say have been violently killed by rebel forces in Syria.
“Never, ever did Bashar or the Syrian regime consider the Christians to be the enemy, because we’re peaceful people. So is the regime, too. That is the proof for us that it’s not the Syrian regime or even the Army has used that chemical against its own people,” Sabbagh said.
“This is why England, our best ally, backed off,” he added, referring to a vote by the British Parliament last week not to support a military strike on Syria.
Moussa Abdallah, a member of the church who moved to the US from Syria in 1979 and has a large family still in his native land, said he, too, does not believe the Syrian government is responsible for the attack.
“I believe and I am quite sure who used the chemical weapons, it’s the rebels. I’m sure because I know my country, I served in the army, I know exactly what’s going on,” Abdallah said.
“Do you believe the Syrian government used the chemical weapons before the inspectors come? Common sense, just put it in your head and ask yourself, would they do that? Like we are animals coming from the jungle?” he asked.
He believes Saudi Arabia supplied rebel forces with the chemical weapons, and Qatar provided protective masks that the rebels didn’t know how to use, and hundreds were killed in the accidental explosion that resulted.
“Hands Off Syria!” cried a call to action by the International Action Center (IAC) which opposes US wars abroad, including intervention in Syria.
The group is organizing roughly a dozen marches and rallies in various US cities in the coming days, including a march from the White House to Capitol Hill on Sept. 9, the day Congress returns from summer recess and will consider US President Barack Obama’s request for a congressional vote approving military action in Syria.
“President Obama is using the same tactics as President Bush did before the Iraq War. Ten years later Iraq lay in ruins. A million Iraqis died, millions became refugees. More than 1.5 million US soldiers were deployed to Iraq,” the IAC said in a statement.
Friends of Syria, a volunteer group that says it “spreads the truth to prevent war,” posted an online photo of the twin towers burning in New York on 9/11, with the stark message, “Who knew that 12 years later we would have a president who wants to arm and come to the defense of the people who did this?”
It’s a grim reference to concern that al-Qaida has joined rebel forces in Syria.
Russia blocked a vote by the United Nations Security Council to approve military force against Syria, a move that has further strained US-Russian relations.
When former US President Bill Clinton was faced with evidence of genocide that had killed tens of thousands in Kosovo, he acted, “on his own, without the Security Council, without the United Nations, without the blessing of every other country on earth, to do the right thing at the end of the day, to save the people that were dying,” Doured said.
“So why we care about Russia right now? Russia has their own Putin, he’s half naked all over the place, and he wants to show like he’s a superman, and they want to show like he can snap Obama’s hand into whatever he wants. Russia is nothing! Now we care about Russia? It’s crazy!” he said.
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