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W.Va. residents with family in Syria hope for intervention

Every time he talks to his family, Dr. Abdul Rahman Zanabli can hear bombing in the background.

Zanabli's mother, brother and sisters all still live in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, now a stronghold for rebel forces attempting to bring down President Bashar Assad.

Just a few days ago, a government sniper killed one of Zanabli's close cousins while the man was on his way home from work.

"He was a businessman. He had nothing to do with the rebels or with the regime," Zanabli, a Charleston nephrologist, said.

It's not an uncommon occurrence. By some estimates, 100,000 people have died in Syria since summer 2011, when rebels began an attempt to overthrow Assad.

The United States has so far taken little action to end the conflict. That could soon change, however, following last week's alleged chemical weapons attacks in Damascus.

Secretary of State John Kerry has called the attacks a "moral obscenity" and said the Syrian government must be held accountable. British officials earlier this week requested the United Nations authorize the use of military force in Syria.

In Zanabli's opinion, intervention by the U.S. and its allies is way past due.

"This is not a local or regional crisis, this is a humanitarian crisis," Zanabli said. "I don't understand how anyone, any country or any superpower can sit and watch the Syrian population being bombed."

Although Zanabli is a nephrologist, he regularly returns to Syria to run primary care clinics for people there. In June, he spent about 10 days in the country.

"Every time I go there, the suffering and humanitarian disaster is just getting worse and worse," he said. "I don't understand how anyone could say 'No, we don't want to intervene.' "

The Syrian-American Council and the West Virginia Friends of Syria held a rally at the state Capitol grounds Wednesday night to honor victims of recent attacks.

About 60 men, women and children gathered around the statue of Abraham Lincoln on the south side of the building.

Some waved the Syrian Independence flag and others waved the American flag. Some waved both. They carried signs and chanted loudly to the honking of cars passing by on Kanawha Boulevard.

"There is only one solution - revolution, revolution!" they cried.

"Free, free Syria," they chanted.

Dirar Ahmad, a highway engineer who lives in the Kanawha Valley, was born in Palestine but is an American citizen.

He said he understands that the country has been at war for more than a decade and that the citizens may be war-weary but that the nation should take a stand against the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons. He said the use of chemical weapons is against everything he believes Americans stand for. 

Ahmad called the use of chemical weapons a moral issue. He said its America's destiny to be a superpower and the moral leader of the world.

"This is our destiny," he said. "We need to stand up for the people of Syria. They did not ask for this." 

Dr. Taoufit Sadat, a Beckley ophthalmologist and member of the Syrian-American Counsel, said he wished the U.S. had taken action in Syria in 2011, when the government opposition protests were still peaceful.

"It's not that we are obliged to do it, but when you are the man who has the power in the neighborhood and you see someone who is killing his child, you should step in and stop this man from killing this child," he said.

Sadat's two brothers are still in Damascus, near the city's center. He talks to them every day.

"I wouldn't call it safe, but it is not all-out war yet," he said.

Neither of them are working anymore - clashes between Assad's army and rebel forces have made many parts of the city impassable - and are relying on savings to support their families.

"All of the people inside Syria, if they have savings, they're using up their savings. If they don't have savings, they're hungry," Sadat said.

Ehdeshamul Haque, the imam at South Charleston's Islamic Center of West Virginia, said about 40 percent of his congregation is Syrian. But he encouraged all members of the mosque to participate in Wednesday's rally at the state Capitol.

"It's not just like it's a Muslim issue. It's a humanitarian cause," he said.

Haque hopes the rally will spur West Virginia's congressional officials to support an intervention in Syria "before it's too late."

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., told MetroNews Wednesday he supports a "surgical strike" on Syria. While he does not support putting troops on the ground, he believes an air strike against Assad would be "appropriate."

But Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., recently signed a letter urging President Obama to consult with Congress before issuing a strike.

A total of 93 federal lawmakers, mostly Republicans, signed the letter.

McKinley told the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram on Wednesday he doesn't think the situation warrants putting American military members at risk.

Writer Ashley B. Craig contributed to this report.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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