September 2, 2013
Airstrikes were expected as early as this weekend, but President Obama announced Saturday he will seek congressional authorization before taking any action.
Jacob Wirtschafter and Louise Osborne, Special for USA TODAY
Syria Direct contributed reporting to this article. The original link is here.
AMMAN: At 5 a.m. Wednesday, three Syrian women walk silently out of a house in the center of Damascus’ old town and climb into a taxi.
They drive quickly through the dark, empty streets to the Lebanese border, passing through government-controlled checkpoints along the way.
Hundreds wait to be let across the border, but the three women are lucky: They manage to get through quickly because one is ill. Hours later, the family sits together, safe, having made it out of the war-torn country.
Recounting the story of her mother, sister and cousin leaving their Damascus home, Rana — a Syrian taking refuge in Germany who would not provide her last name out of fear of retaliation to her family in Syria — said, “(My mom) said the situation has become worse and worse.”
Although Rana, 32, was able to talk her reluctant parents into traveling to Lebanon last week as the U.S. deliberated airstrikes in Syria, she fears they will return home soon, perhaps just in time for a U.S.-led attack after President Obama consults Congress.
“They think they are used to the situation in Syria even though they are afraid,” Rana said. “I’m scared they will go back.”
Since a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 killed more than 1,400 people including more than 400 children, according to U.S. figures, the U.S. and its allies have been deliberating limited airstrikes in Syria.
The attacks were expected as early as this weekend, but President Obama announced Saturday he will seek congressional authorization before taking any action. That likely means a delay until Sept. 9, when congressional leaders are expected to debate the issue.
The delay has meant relief for some Syrians who oppose airstrikes — such as Rana — but for those who want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad punished for the chemical attacks, as well as the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians since the war began in 2011, the decision is bitterly disappointing.
“My usually calm and collected grandma was shaking in fear as she explained the Assad regime had kicked out all the displaced people that were seeking refuge in two nearby schools,” said Abdulwahab Sayed Omar, a Syrian activist based in Britain, who expressed fury in Britain’s Parliament voting against military action last week and Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval.
“I tried to explain to her that despite the fact the Assad regime was planning to use civilians as human shields, the international community wouldn’t target populated areas. She angrily interrupted me and called me silly — she said she wasn’t worried the West would bomb them, she was afraid the Assad regime forces are moving into the area in order to retaliate against its people in revenge.”
Some opposition members say they didn’t expect Western help in the first place.
“We have lost trust in the international community, especially after all the blood that has been spilled and the sacrifices we have made,” said Nayeef Alsari in Daara.
Meanwhile, analysts say after Obama’s talk of chemical weapons as the “red line” that would trigger consequences, the president is under pressure to take action.
“It must be short and limited but also a hard and painful strike on Syrian forces,” said Henning Riecke, an analyst of transatlantic relations at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.
“It must be clear, though — to keep some doors open for diplomacy — that the U.S. is not taking the position as protector of the Syrian opposition and that the U.S. is not trying to get involved in the conflict or move the balance towards the advantage of the rebels.”
Still, some Syrians, like Rana, want the U.S. to hold back. She says she is scared about the destruction airstrikes would cause and the collateral damage.
“I’m not just afraid for my family but also for my friends, but I can’t push them all to leave,” she said. “I feel like the U.S. is not going to do anything, and it makes me feel much better. It’s enough for Syria — what’s already happened now — and such strikes … are not going to change anything.”
Contributing: Jabeen Bhatti in Berlin