'We feel completely alone . . . We feel we are fighting Russia, Iran and Hizbullah too'

Fri, Feb 10, 2012, 00:00

THE SOUND of animated Arabic rises from several tables in a west Dublin cafe as men from several corners of the Middle East discuss the revolutions and uprisings that have shaken the region over the past year.

Among them are Libyans and Palestinians, but it is the Syrians, their faces drawn after months of worry, that dominate with snatches of news spliced with rumours from home. Over sweet coffee, they relay the latest developments as distilled from YouTube videos, Facebook and anxious phone conversations with relatives living in Syria.

Russia and China’s torpedoing last weekend of a UN Security Council resolution that called on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down has left the men, all supporters of the Syrian opposition, downcast.

“After Russia and China’s decision to veto the resolution, we feel completely alone, completely isolated,” says Fadi, who moved to Ireland in 2001 and lives in Meath with his Lithuanian wife and two children. “We have no doubt things are going to get much, much worse. This regime will fight until the last gun.

“Bashar al-Assad has called us germs, he has called us all sort of terrible things, and the killing increases day after day. Nothing can surprise us anymore. We have coined a saying in Arabic which translates as: Even the devil takes lessons from the Assad regime.”

Fadi’s mother comes from Homs, the city that has become the nucleus of the uprising against the Syrian regime. Witnesses tell of hundreds dead and wounded in Homs after nearly a week of bombardment and sniper fire by government forces.

“Our relatives live in the most affected areas including Bab Amr,” he says.

“We haven’t heard from them in a very long time. It makes us sick with worry.”

Fadi is one of dozens of Syrians living in Ireland who have been organising regular protests in Dublin to highlight the situation in their home country. Sometimes they demonstrate outside the offices of the European Commission representation in Ireland, calling on the EU to do more about the escalating violence. “At the very least the people who are suffering should be getting medical assistance but even this is difficult,” he says.

“We need help like the Libyan people got help.”

Ali, who hails from Syria’s coastal city of Latakia, says his cousin was arrested while taking part in a protest two months ago and has not been heard of since. Last year his brother-in-law was detained by security forces for two weeks. “When they finally released him, his body was blue all over. He was almost dead.”

Fear of what comes next is reinforced by the fact all at the table are only too aware that, given the complex web of alliances and interests that converge in Syria, this is not simply a battle against a regime they detest. “We know we are not just up against the Assad regime,” says Fadi. “We feel we are fighting Russia, Iran and Hizbullah too.”