Monday, 2 January 2017

Local Syrians say Assad must go

Ghoufran Allababidi

 'Ghoufran Allababidi was born in Aleppo, the ravaged city that was recently taken over by Assad’s forces, which preceded the cease-fire. She moved to the United States in 2000 and works as an interpreter, helping fellow Syrians by working with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services and Catholic Charities.

 Since what she calls the “revolution” began in March 2011, “we’re trying to raise awareness of what’s going on over there.” Since the revolution started, however, Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters have joined the fighting, which has erupted into full-scale civil war.

 Allababidi, Stanley Heller of West Haven, administrator of Promoting Enduring Peace, and other peace activists have met with staff members of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and want to pressure legislators to support the rebels with humanitarian aid.

 “It’s really always been sweet talk that gives us hope, but nothing really happens,” Allababidi said of the leaders of the United States and the United Nations.

 Allababidi, who has had several cousins disappear under Assad, spoke of the millions of refugees in Jordan and Turkey and how at least 80 percent of Syrians want Assad removed. “For me personally, I don’t prefer to see any American soldiers on Syrian soil,” Allababidi said. “But we would like good action to help the Syrian people to get their freedom.”

 Of the cease-fire, which went into effect at midnight Friday, Allababidi said, “I’m very optimistic, even though we don’t trust the regime. … I think Russia won’t leave [Assad] as president.”

 Heller said, “There’s been a number of cease-fires and they don’t seem to last because the regime really is intent on taking everything back and they say this again and again. … We think the opposition should be helped with food and supplies. We’re not calling for weapons.”

 He also called for the United States “to collect the names of the people doing the worst abuses. They’ve been deliberately and systematically targeting medical facilities.”

 Heller said Syrian activists in this country are seeking “airdrops of food to these starving areas. The U.N. said there were a million people under siege. … The U.S. Air Force said they could do it back in January. … They’re just waiting for the call.”

 “There had been a sanctions bill, the Caesar [Syria] Civilian Protection Act,” Heller said. “That act actually passed the House without opposition in the middle of November.” It’s been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but no other action has been taken. It was named for a photographer who used the pseudonym Caesar and took thousands of pictures of slaughtered Syrians. The bill would increase sanctions on the Assad regime and those doing business with it.

 “If we are looking for a peaceful life for the Syrians, whoever is left, then he should be out,” Allababidi said of Assad. “He is winning too many parts of Syria, but people have lost enough and they are willing to give up more for him to be out.” Electric power and clean water are in short supply. Half of the hospitals have been demolished, Allababidi said.

 She said that among the suffering are the Syrian children. “Only 6 percent are receiving education and if you look at the future of those children, I would not be optimistic.”

 Allababidi also is wary of President-elect Donald Trump’s intentions. “I’m not very optimistic about what’s going to happen,” she said. “He mentioned that he’s not going to be against Assad because Assad is fighting terrorists, but I don’t believe that.”

 Allababidi said that besides humanitarian aid, her message is “raising more awareness … so the politicians can be pushed to do something. We need to do something. We need action.” '

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