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For Syrians In North Florida, ‘Every Family Has Had At Least One Loss’

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With the upcoming Congressional vote about military intervention in Syria, many Americans are left wondering if a solution even exists to the Middle East crisis.

For some Syrian-Americans, the answer is all too clear. Sameer Saboungi, a University of Florida student, migrated from Syria when he was a child.  The world, not just the United States, has a responsibility to answer to the horrors that have been quickly erupting in his home country, he said.

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“We cannot let chemical weapons go unpunished,” Saboungi said. “We cannot let Assad go on killing people.”

As a Syrian activist on campus, Saboungi has participated in many anti-regime rallies.  The crisis in Syria is unique, and nothing like the Middle East invasions of the early 2000s, he said.

Like most Syrian families, he has had his own share of heartbreak.

“One of my cousin’s relatives, they found out about his death by watching his funeral on YouTube,” he said. “They did not know he passed away until they watched his funeral on YouTube.”

Saboungi’s passion stems from something deeper than a kinship to his native home.

“Not one family in Syria has been unaffected by this crisis,” he said. “Every family has had at least one loss. And so, it’s a situation that is very close to my heart because not only have people been killed and have people been displaced, but places I’ve been to have been destroyed.”

Saboungi’s story represents the struggle shared by many Syrians.

“I have a friend who is in college right now,” he said. “He is a close friend of mine from Syria, and he actually got detained for 10 days a while ago for posting something on Facebook, and it’s so scary the level of oppression, the level of fear that the people are living through.”

Gainesville architect Suhaib Harraka was caught in a similar crossfire. Two years ago when he was in college, he participated in an anti-government protest with his peers, Harraka said.

“They turned my college into a jail,” he said. “They kicked out all the students.”

The Syrian regime had attempted to capture him, which forced him to flee to Turkey before ultimately traveling to the United States, he said.

“At that point, I just had to leave the country,” he said.

The Syrian civil war has continued for two and a half years, and only now has any country made a serious threat to enter their own forces into it. Gwendolyn Simmons, senior lecturer in Islamic studies at University of Florida, said the solution to this problem is not more violence.

“I don’t believe that the United States’ intervention militarily is going to change things,” Simmons said.

Working in the American Friends Service Committee for 23 years, Simmons has a long history in social justice.  The Quaker-based organization fights for human rights and international development around the globe, she said.

“As a person who is always for peace, I think we should step up our diplomatic efforts to bring the opposition and Assad together,” she said. “We should work with the Soviets and the Chinese to try to make that happen. I don’t think we’ve used nearly the diplomacy that we could use to try to end this conflict as opposed to, you know, bombing the country.”

A congressional briefing on U.S. intervention in Syria continued Tuesday.

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