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‘They say time is money, but in Syria, time is souls’
TWO York residents have spoken of their horror after 13 of their friends and relatives were killed in the crisis in Syria.
Mazen Alssa, 27, and Abdo Sukari, 31, have recently moved to York and have watched the crisis unfold in their country from afar.
Mr Alssa left Syria, where he worked as a doctor, soon after being jailed and tortured for attending an anti-Government protest. Mr Sukari has told of how his brother is the victim of torture in prison.
Both say they are disappointed that British politicians voted against military action in Syria where 100,000 people are reported to have been killed in the uprising against President Bashar al- Assad’s regime in two years – a death toll which they believe is much higher.
Mr Sukari said: “They say time is money, but in Syria, time is souls. They said we are waiting for the inspectors and then we are waiting again. People must act fast to save innocent people who deserve to live. We should not wait for the worst to happen, because then it’s too late.”
A BBC poll found about threequarters of the British public believe MPs were right to reject UK military action in Syria in a vote last week, during which it was argued Britain must learn the lessons from its intervention in Iraq.
Mr Sukari spoke highly of the democratic process in Britain, but said Mr Assad – a well educated and formidable politician – will kill “more and more” without intervention.
“What is going to happen next if you let him run away with it?” he asked.
Mr Alssa, who has a protective fellowship at the University of York, said: “A lot of people think the situation is one of a civil war, but it is an uprising against a dictatorship.
People were demonstrating for freedom and democracy.
It’s clear for any Syrian the most brutal side is the regime.
“From the very first day of the uprising Assad has called the protesters terrorists – he cannot understand why people want freedom and democracy.
“I don’t see any sense in comparing Syria to Iraq. Why don’t we compare it to Libya or Kosovo?
The Syrian situation is totally different to the Iraqi situation.”
The UN has said more than two million Syrians are now refugees.
Mr Alssa appealed to people to donate to Syrian charities to give urgent help to thise who have been displaced. He said: “It’s the crisis of the 21st century, a third of the population needs help.”
To donate money to the Red Cross, which is working with Syrian refugees, visit redcross.org.uk or to Unicef, which is working with child refugees, visit unicef.org.uk
Doctor tortured and whipped in jail misery
MAZEN ALSSA said he does not think hell could be as bad as the jail in which he was held and tortured in Syria.
The 27-year-old doctor was jailed as part of a drive to crush anti-Government protests when he attended a small protest in Damascus in 2011 calling for freedom and democracy in Syria.
After being arrested he said he was taken to a string of holding places where he was tortured by electric shocks and thrashed with whips.
But it was the last holding centre which continues to haunt him. Mazen said he was forced to lie in a hall with other men while they were thrashed and was among some 30 people crowded into a tiny cell.
He said: “I don’t think hell is that bad. I have flashbacks to it which are very traumatic.
“I have never been in such an experience in my life, but if I had to I would protest again. In jail they said ‘if you do this again we will kill you’. Many people are broken in that situation, it has destroyed their humanity.
“They broke my heart in the jail. After I was released I was so afraid.”
But despite his fears, after his release, Mazen – who previously worked as humanitarian volunteer with displaced people – began to work for the secret organisation of doctors providing treatment to the opponents of the regime who would be arrested if they attended hospital.
He fled the country in 2012 via the Lebanon and Jordan and now has a protective fellowship at the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York.
His family remains in Syria where he knows two friends have died while being tortured and another by shelling while treating patients. Another was shot on the border while trying to escape the country.
Last September he said his cousin, her husband and their four children, including sixyear- old Odai were killed when Syrian forces stormed their home in the north east of Syria.
He said: “They did nothing against the regime, but the soldiers will take revenge on anyone.
This is one story of every day tragedy in Syria.”
‘Everytime I call my mother she says she is all right, but I can hear the bombs in the background’
FOR York resident Abdo Sukari, every day is one of worry for his youngest brother who was thrown into jail in Syria two months ago.
Basem, 22, had been desperate to leave his spell in national service and may have have been thought to be contact with a person from the rebel side to secure his escape.
He was jailed two-months-ago where Abdo believes he is being tortured, a considerable worry made worse as he has heard reports the prisons are so overcrowded bodies are being thrown into neighbouring rivers and the sea.
Abdo, 31, who has lived and worked in York since 2010, said people in Syria live in a constant state of worry and distrust of others.
Phone calls with his family, four of which have been killed in the violence, are thought to be listened in to.
He said: “Every time I call my mother she says she is all right, but I can hear the bombs in the background. They have learned to talk about life in code. Things you cannot imagine happening in this country are happening in Syria.”