Local News

Triangle residents with Syrian connections back using force

Posted August 29, 2013 6:51 p.m. EDT
Updated August 29, 2013 11:49 p.m. EDT

— While the world weighs a military strike against Syria, the Syrian community in Raleigh is watching, waiting and hoping the world will step in to remove President Bashar Assad.

Khalila Sabra, who works with Syrian refugees, has seen the effects of Syria's civil war firsthand. She calls Assad a butcher.

"He's committing genocide, and the world is just standing by and watching it happen," Sabra said Thursday.

Sabra and the Islamic Association of Raleigh have been gathering medical supplies and donations to send to the refugee camps on Syria's borders. More than 2 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon and Jordan, and as many as 200,000 people have died in the civil war, she said.

"I would like to see Bashar al Assad removed by any means necessary," she said. "I know that Americans have grown weary of war because of Afghanistan and Iraq, but our moral compass demands that we do something about Syria."

Bilal Kanawati, who emigrated to the U.S. from Syria after high school, still has family in Damascus. He said he wasn't surprised to hear about a chemical attack in his homeland.

"He's done it before, and I'm sure he will do it again if we don't stop him," Kanawati said of Assad.

His sister and her children don't live far from the neighborhood that was gassed. They have since sealed their windows, he said.

Kanawati says air strikes against the regime would slow down the air assault and help the rebels.

"If they bomb his airport, his runways, (and) stop the air attack, that will help a lot," he said.

Although some worry that a U.S. military strike could kill more civilians and escalate the war, Sabra said the Syrian people would welcome a strike.

"The people are going to die anyway if (Assad) continues to kill them," she said. "Not doing anything, that's a crime in itself."

The Islamic Association has declined to take a position on military action in Syria but said it is "very concerned" by the humanitarian crisis there.

Ahmed Bakerli, a Raleigh community activist originally from Syria, also characterized the situation in his home country as a humanitarian crisis.

"It's not political right now. It's just to stop the massacres," he said. "(Assad) is killing several hundreds everyday in Syria and the silence of the world is killing them more because nobody is acting because Syria is not an oil-producing country."