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Chicagoan heads to Syria: ‘I want to be there for this crucial moment’

Yaser Tabbarsays Syrians are eager for U.S. get involved thcountry’s struggle. “I want be there for this crucial moment for

Yaser Tabbara says Syrians are eager for the U.S. to get involved in that country’s struggle. “I want to be there for this crucial moment for them,” he said this week as he prepared to go to Syria. | Michael Jarecki~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 30, 2013 7:44AM



Yaser Tabbara is Syria-bound, even as the U.S. contemplates a missile attack.

The native Chicagoan — a Syrian-American activist and lawyer — has waited for this moment for two years.

“I want to be there for this crucial moment for them,” Tabbara said this week as he prepared to depart for the war-torn country.

A YouTube video of protesters lying in pools of their own blood from March 17, 2011 — the first day of large-scale protests in Damascus — changed his life, turning him into an organizer: “It was a very personal experience. I’ve seen videos of other . . . revolutions, but this one was at home.”

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising began between the Syrian government and opposition groups seeking to oust President Bashad Assad. Almost 2 million have fled to neighboring countries and 4 million have been displaced. Within the last two weeks alone, 46,000 Syrians crossed the border in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, according to the United Nations.

A frequent visitor, he has no fears about returning to Syria.

Born in Chicago, Tabbara, 37, grew up in Syria and still has many family and friends in Damascus. The uprising against Assad inspired him to become involved. A Loop attorney and resident of suburban Westmont, Tabbara’s currently in the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the umbrella organization of Syrian government opposition groups.

His family and friends in Syria say they are ready — by any means — for an end to what he calls an assault on the country.

“On a daily basis, people in a large number of cities in Syria go to bed with a fear of having basically the Air Force bomb their homes at night, or a Scud missile being launched from somewhere,” Tabbara said.

His hope is that a U.S. missile attack will stop the Assad government from using Air Force or domestic missiles to terrorize the Syrian population. But response should have come much sooner, Tabbara says.

“Up until Monday, the last 2 1/2 years, Assad had yet to receive one serious signal from the free world,” Tabbara said. “What he’s doing is tolerated, and as such he has been given a defacto green light despite all the red lines he had crossed. He had a green light to terrorize, brutalize and attempt to quell a national uprising.”

After two years of bloodshed, Tabbara says his Syrian family and friends are not worried about the aftermath of a U.S.-led military strike: “How much more can you worry when you have literally a madman that is not shy to strike using any kind of weapon . . . attacking any time of day, at the most random locations?” Tabbara said.

Other Syrian-Americans are worried sick about their families who remain in the country. A professor at a local university and urban planner, who did not want to be named for fear the Syrian government might threaten his family, said his brothers, parents and sister live in a relatively safe area of Damascus. But it’s only safe because armed troops are on guard nearby.

“Helicopters hover all the time over the neighborhood to shoot the other suburbs where the rebels are. And of course, they live in incredible fear because you know you can leave your home and never come back,” he said.

Last week’s chemical attack happened in an area where all milk and vegetables are provided to Damascus: “My family is really concerned about what they are eating, what they are drinking because of the chemicals. . . . They don’t know what to do. They close their windows because they don’t want the air in, but at the same time they are afraid of airstrikes and open the windows. They’re really in a difficult situation.”



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