Syrians in Paris unconvinced as West mulls strikes
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Despite the US and France promising to take swift action in Syria, in response to last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack, many Paris-based Syrians feel the West has neither the will nor the ability to resolve the bloody two-year-old conflict.
France, the former colonial power in Syria, now appears to be the only major Western power to join the US in calling for military action against the Bashar al-Assad regime.
But as Barack Obama and François Hollande declare their intention to punish Assad for last week's alleged chemical weapons attack, Paris’s large Syrian community is mostly unconvinced by Western promises.
“Over the last two years, the international community has shown that it does not keep its word,” says Syrian expat Fadi Dayoub, “I don’t see why the situation will now change. 100,000 people have already died and no action has been taken.”
“So far, all our pleas for Western help have been in vain,” he continued. “We had hoped for a programme to protect civilians to be put in place, humanitarian corridors or security zones with closed airspace. None of this has happened.”
‘The regime continues to massacre every day’
Fadi is one of the customers at Le Bistro Syrien in Paris’s tenth arrondissment, which, at 8pm on an August evening, is beginning to fill up.
His view, that the West lacks the will to take decisive action in Syria, is shared by many in the bar, including Khaled al-Khani, a former activist forced to flee Syria in 2011.
Although he welcomes the possibility of Western intervention, he is sceptical that the US and France will do enough to truly make a difference.
“The international community needs to stop focusing on chemical weapons as the regime continues to massacre the people every day with conventional arms and the West doesn’t seem to care,” he says.
Khaled believes punitive strikes alone will not be enough to stop Assad’s bloody campaign.
“At best, Assad will retreat behind the red line and stop using chemical weapons, which will mean he can just carry on killing with his other weapons.”
‘An intervention would be an attack on Syrian sovereignty’
But while many Syrians in France support Western intervention, it is not a view shared by all of them. Saad Lostan, a refugee who describes himself as an anarchist, believes foreign involvement in Syria’s conflict will only make the situation worse.
Any intervention by the West would amount to “an attack against Syria’s sovereignty, putting the rebels and the regime in the same basket”, he says.
“As the strikes would probably target Syrian institutions they will only hurt the country even further. How will we regain control if we no longer have the infrastructure for the country to function?”
Saad would like to see a diplomatic solution to the conflict, but for his compatriots Fadi and Khaled, the time for talking has long passed.
"The priority now is to arm the rebels," says the latter. And any fears that such a move would see weapons fall into the hands of extremists are unfounded, Fadi thinks.
“There are currently around 10,000 jihadists in Syria. The Free Syrian Army numbers between 100,000 and 150,000 people. If Assad falls, a lot of soldiers from the regime’s army will join us as well. The few jihadists that remain will be neutralised,” he says confidently.
‘We have a country to rebuild’
Although the patrons at Le Bistro Syrien may not all agree on how to end the conflict that has ravaged their country, they all share the dream of seeing their homeland rebuilt once the war is over, and many plan on returning.
Former actor Saad wants to return to the stage, while Khaled, who was a painter before fleeing Syria, wants to return home as soon as possible to work as a teacher.
“But if it’s to rebuild houses brick by brick or even clean the streets, I will do it,” he says, keen to help his country in any way he can.
Despite living in Paris for two decades, former consultant and entrepreneur Fadi is also keen to return to Syria once the conflict is over.
“Even if I’m head-over-heels in love with France, I feel it is my duty to return,” he says. “We have a country to rebuild.”
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