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Chemical attack survivors want stronger U.S. role

Smoke ascends after a Syrian military helicopter allegedly dropped a barrel bomb over the city of Daraya, southwest of the capital Damascus, on February 5, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / FADI DIRANI)

WASHINGTON: Tears welling in her eyes, Syrian refugee Amineh Sawan said Thursday that Americans are too focused on the use of chemical weapons by the regime of President Bashar Assad.

“My brother’s family survived the chemical weapon attack the day of the attack,” the 23-year-old said, her voice trembling. “Seven days later they were killed with a mortar shell. If you take away the weapons, Assad still has so many weapons to kill us.”

Amineh Sawan and her cousin Heba Sawan, 24, survived a chemical weapon attack in the Syrian town of Moadamieh. At the U.S. Capitol Thursday the cousins said their warring country was being ravaged by the use of weapons and that distinguishing between a chemical weapon and a conventional one missed the point.

“We are human! We are dying,” the younger cousin said.

They spoke as Syrian rebels raided the town of Aleppo amid a relentless government air campaign. At least 246 people, including 73 children, have died in the past five days alone, according to the opposition-aligned Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The cousins spoke after meeting with Sen. Tim Kaine, the chairman of a Senate subcommittee that works on Syrian issues. Kaine, a Democrat, left the meeting calling for a more aggressive response from the international community. He said he is pushing for immediate guarantees from the Assad regime that humanitarian aid can enter the country and supports a U.N. Security Council resolution to monitor and report anyone blocking access to humanitarian aid.

Russia has said it would not support such a vote, which Kaine said was unacceptable.

“I want to see what every nation around that table – especially Russia, with the world’s eyes on Russia now – have to say,” Kaine said.

The senator’s words came after what he described as a wrenching meeting with 24-year-old Heba Sawan, 23-year-old Amineh Sawan and Anas al-Dabas, 34, who survived a conventional weapons attack on his home city of Daraya, Syria.

The Sawans were living in Moadamieh, a small town west of the Syrian capital Damascus, when civilians were attacked with chemical weapons last August. The town was then surrounded by Assad’s troops with food and other aid blocked, an attempt to starve the town’s residents. The cousins were able to escape with the help of the Red Cross during a short humanitarian pause.

Amineh Sawan said she feels responsible for those still suffering under Assad’s rule.

“I feel I have to reach the whole world to let them know what our situation really is, what it is really about,” she said.

Kaine said the Sawans and Dabas told him they didn’t understand U.S. inaction or the distinction between a chemical attack and other brutal forms of war.

“It is hard to explain to them why more members of Congress won’t vote to act,” Kaine, who voted in committee in favor of military action in Syria last year in response to the chemical weapons attack. “They have a hard time understanding that. They had a hard time understanding why is death by a chemical weapon worse than death by starvation? Or death by being shot and having your corpse set on fire.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 08, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

Chemical attack survivors want stronger U.S. role

Tears welling in her eyes, Syrian refugee Amineh Sawan said Thursday that Americans are too focused on the use of chemical weapons by the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Amineh Sawan and her cousin Heba Sawan, 24, survived a chemical weapon attack in the Syrian town of Moadamieh.

The cousins spoke after meeting with Sen. Tim Kaine, the chairman of a Senate subcommittee that works on Syrian issues.

Amineh Sawan said she feels responsible for those still suffering under Assad's rule.


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