Syrian Exiles Push For U.S. Action

With War Unfolding, Assad Opponents Push for Safe Zones

Battling To Be Heard: Syrian exiles are trying to get Washington’s attention for their struggle.
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Battling To Be Heard: Syrian exiles are trying to get Washington’s attention for their struggle.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 30, 2012, issue of February 03, 2012.
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“We believe it doesn’t have to be a Libya-style bombing campaign,” Abdulhamid said. What most activists are asking for is a supply of light weapons to the opposition, a maritime blockade to stop the Syrian military from rearming and the establishment of safe zones near the Syrian-Turkish border. These zones could provide shelter to activists and refugees, but would require the declaration of no-fly and no-access rules and the potential use of military force to carry them out.

The administration has rejected such proposals, making clear that, among other things, it lacks the international backing it had during the uprising in Libya. “It’s important to note that no member of the Security Council is advocating for military intervention in Syria, as the Arabs did when they initiated the action for Libya,” Susan Rice, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in a January 23 meeting in New York with the American Jewish Committee.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which supports. military action by the United States to maintain democracy in the Middle East, lamented this position. “People think you need a perfect situation, like we had in Libya, before we intervene,” he said. “Unfortunately, Libya has become the threshold test, and if that’s what we are waiting for, it will never happen.”

Ziadeh has been unable to return home to Syria since 2007, when the government issued an arrest warrant for him shortly after he came to the United States. With several other activists, he founded the Syrian Center for Political & Strategic Studies, a think tank and advocacy group dedicated to advancing democracy in Syria. The center’s push for increased pressure from America on Assad includes meetings with members of Congress and administration officials, and appeals in the media to move the Syrian issue to the front burner.

“Obviously, the administration has taken some excellent steps,” Ziadeh said, “but since calling for Assad to step down in September, the U.S. has been leading from behind. If we miss the opportunity now, it will never come again.”

Ziadeh, who openly met with Clinton last August, said he was called to a meeting at the Syrian Embassy in Washington and told that information on his anti-government activities had been sent to security forces in Syria. He said his mother was interrogated and informed that if she told her son “to be silent,” she would be granted an exit visa to visit him. A call to the Syrian embassy seeking comment on Ziadeh’s claim was not returned.

Ziadeh is one of the few Syrian activists to communicate with American Jewish groups. He appeared twice at events organized by the AJC, a group that has taken a leading role in supporting Syrian opposition. A video of one of his speeches was posted on YouTube, presumably by pro-regime activists, with a title describing Ziadeh as a spy.

Two Syrian dissidents in the United States who gave an interview to Israel’s daily Yediot Aharonot without disclosing their identity are now in hiding after the state-run TV in Syria exposed their names and accused them of treason. The report also included a fabricated letter in which the newspaper supposedly acknowledges their identity.

Abdulhamid said that talking to Israelis and to Jewish groups is a matter of controversy within the Syrian exile community, but he is among those who maintain contacts with Jewish activists in Washington. “It’s true that at times we are demonized when we do so, but we forget that if we want our rights, we need to communicate,” he said. “We need to develop diplomatic skills.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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