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Syrian Refugees Voice Opinions On Airstrike Debate


Nobody has a bigger stake in this debate than the people of Syria. Their civil war has killed more than 100,000 people. Millions are refugees inside and outside their country.

NPR's Rima Marrouch has been talking with Syrians inside and outside of the country. And she's on the line from Beirut. Hi, Rima.


INSKEEP: How closely are refugees following all this?

MARROUCH: Very closely. In general, you can say that Syrians were never so divided on a topic as they are today when discussing possible U.S. action. But it's also not so black and white. We met Salah. He's an 18-year-old Syrian worker and he's a good example of those mixed feelings. His parents and siblings are living in Rakka(ph). It's a town outside of government control. I met him at a place that is called Tal Akhdar.

It's only a few miles from the Syrian border and it's so close that he actually can get Syria's cell network. And he and others use the hail to call family members, and here's what he told me when I asked him about the airstrikes.

SALAH: (Through interpreter) The strike will not be easy for Syrians. At the end, it's our country that will be hit. We're already fighting each other. Now a strike from the outside? And at the end, what we think doesn't matter. It won't change anything.

INSKEEP: Okay. So he said he thinks it's not going to change anything if they happen at all. Is that what a lot of Syrians are telling you?

MARROUCH: There is a sense that if the airstrikes will be very limited and will not change the balance of power on the ground, then it will actually only strengthen Assad. For others, the story is much more simple, like for Assi. I met him also in Tal Akhdar. He's from Barzeh, which is near Damascus. He fled heavy shelling from the government a few months ago.

His parents are still inside, but he supports the strike.

ASI: (Through interpreter) I'm not happy that we will be a target. I'm happy because the weapons that have been killing us will hopefully be destroyed. We are happy that the machines that are killing us will be hit.

INSKEEP: Now, with that said, Rima Marrouch, there's been a lot of movement in the last 24 hours or so towards some kind of diplomatic effort to avert airstrikes. Secretary of State John Kerry made a remark about Syria giving up its chemical weapons. Russia and Syria seized on this. Do refugees expect these strikes will really happen?

MARROUCH: There is a growing fear that the international community is abandoning Syrians again, that nothing will actually change. Others, although they are against the strike, and they hope it will not take place, they still are expecting it, like a man named Anas. He came to Lebanon two years ago. He comes from a staunchly pro-government area near Homs.

He actually comes from the same Alawite community as the Syrian president and he has concerns about civilian deaths.

ENIS: (Through interpreter) When they will strike, they will probably not even differentiate between supporters and the opposition. Of course the civilians pay the price. Civilians are already paying the price, since what they call a revolution has been started.

MARROUCH: Another woman, Dima, has the same concerns. She left Damascus only five months ago.

DIMA: I don't know what I have to hope because honestly I don't have hopes for the time being. I just want, like, less civilians to die. This is only the hope I have.

INSKEEP: Was there anyone, Rima Marrouch, that you spoke with who was eager for the United States to weigh in on this war?

MARROUCH: Yes. Actually, many people, and it's difficult to get a sense how many are for and how many are against. But for example, Karam Nachar is a well known Syrian writer and activist. His father is an opposition member of the Syrian National Council and Syrian National Coalition, and here is what he said about the strike.

KARAM NACHAR: It's understandable that Syrians are wary of the collateral damage or of the, you know, the violent effects of any American strike or of just the continuity of the war that has been taking place over the past two years. But I, for one, think that it is only through such a strike that an end to the war might be imagined.

MARROUCH: Karam says an airstrike is the only way to hold the Syrian government accountable for its action and to deter the government from using chemical weapons again.

INSKEEP: Rima, thanks very much.

MARROUCH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rima Marrouch in Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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