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'If you kill them softly it's ‘okay’': Syrians in Vancouver react to U.S. missile attacks

Some Syrian Canadians hope the U.S. attack will convince countries to take Syrian conflict seriously

Mohammed Alsaleh came to Canada in 2014 as a refugee and now works in Vancouver as a resettlement counsellor.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Mohammed Alsaleh came to Canada in 2014 as a refugee and now works in Vancouver as a resettlement counsellor.

The Syrian-Canadian community in Vancouver is still reeling from news that the U.S. bombed the country so many of them have strong ties to. But while some believe the violence signals a turn for the worst, others think the decision could spur other countries to finally take the Syrian conflict seriously.

U.S. President Donald Trump launched dozens of missiles at an air base in Homs, marking the American government’s first direct attack on Syrian forces during the country’s six-year civil war. The Thursday attack was triggered by Syrian president Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people just days earlier, according to Trump.

The American air strike was necessary, said one Vancouverite.

“Something needed to be done,” said Rahim Othman, spokesperson for the Syrian Canadian Council of B.C.

“No one wants that, but how else do you protect civilians?”

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But others point out that Trump, who placed a travel ban on people with a Syrian passport and restricted the number of refugees the U.S. would accept, doesn’t have the best interest of Syrians in mind.

“One day we are potential terrorists … but then suddenly he is concerned about us and trying to protect us from a dictator?” questioned Mohammed Alsaleh, one of the first Syrian refugees accepted into Canada in 2014.

He now works as a refugee-resettlement counsellor in Vancouver.

Wael Alchehabi was granted asylum in Canada in 2016 and is now applying for permanent residency.

Wael Alchehabi/Contributed

Wael Alchehabi was granted asylum in Canada in 2016 and is now applying for permanent residency.

“For me, I was so mad about the fact that he is pretending to help the people he has been persecuting for the last few months.”

The apparent change in the president’s sentiment also surprised Syrian refugee Wael Alchehabi. The Vancouver resident, who crossed the U.S. Canada border near Blaine, Washington, to claim asylum six months ago, says the controversial U.S. attack could trigger the international political will needed to stop Assad.

“We have to wait to know what the political consequences are,” he said.

Peace will require global cooperation, said Alchehabi, who hopes to complete a PhD degree in international relations. He is now applying for Canadian permanent residency.

“This is something bigger than Syria. It’s about the whole international system.”

Alsaleh, who was tortured in Syria for speaking out against Assad’s regime, acknowledged the air strike has brought much needed attention to the bloodshed. 

“Perhaps one positive thing out of the attack is we now have the opportunity to raise the awareness of Syria.”

But more needs to be done, he said, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of people died while politicians stood by. He hears the anger from friends still living in Syria, daily.

“People are very mad and enraged because the concern of the international community wasn’t that the Syrian people are dying."

It took the use of chemical weapons to open people’s eyes to the killings that had been going on for years, he said.

“If you kill them softly it's ‘okay.’ But if you use weapons of mass destruction, then it’s not okay. A lot of people are mad about that.”

With files from The Associated Press

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