Politi­cians, Syr­ian-Amer­i­can plead for the peo­ple of Aleppo

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Danika Wor­thing­ton Danika Wor­thing­ton: dwor­thing­ton@ den­ver­post.com

Syr­ian-Amer­i­can Obeid Kaifo pleaded for help from the only com­mu­nity he knows, im­plor­ing Coloradans to ask the White House to pre­vent “whole­sale slaugh­ter” of civil­ians and rebels who are trapped by civil war in Syria.

“The peo­ple in Aleppo are on their last breath. There needs to be ac­tion in the next hours,” Kaifo said, his hands shak­ing and his speech punc­tu­ated with emo­tion-filled pauses. “We do not want to be the coun­try that stands by as a geno­cide oc­curs.”

Kaifo gath­ered state politi­cians and clergy Tues­day to call on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and elected of­fi­cials from Colorado to take ad­van­tage of ev­ery diplo­matic chan­nel avail­able to en­sure safe evac­u­a­tions and the cre­ation of civil­ian safe zones fol­low­ing re­ports that the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment has re­gained con­trol of east­ern Aleppo, a rebel strong­hold.

Kaifo was joined on the Capi­tol steps by state Sens. Mor­gan Car­roll, D-Aurora; Mike Mer­ri­field, D-Colorado Springs; and Irene Aguilar, D-Den­ver, as well as state Rep. Joe Salazar, DThorn­ton, and Rabbi Brian Immerman.

“Coloradans care. Coloradans help each other,” Mer­ri­field said. “This is an op­por­tu­nity for us to let Colorado voices be heard.”

The sit­u­a­tion in Aleppo turned es­pe­cially bloody as pro-gov­ern­ment forces closed in on the re­main­ing rebel-held neigh­bor­hoods, prompt­ing an emer­gency meet­ing of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

The U.N. Hu­man Rights Of­fice cited re­ports that pro-gov­ern­ment forces killed at least 82 civil­ians in four neigh­bor­hoods Mon­day through bom­bard­ments and ex­e­cu­tions. The in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion warned that thou­sands of peo­ple are at risk of de­ten­tion, tor­ture and killings.

Oth­ers have spo­ken out against the vi­o­lence in Syria, in­clud­ing Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., who is­sued a joint state­ment con­demn­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for in­ac­tion.

“This is not a po­lit­i­cal is­sue. This is not a par­ti­san is­sue,” Salazar said Tues­day. “This is a hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sue.”

Mul­ti­ple news out­lets have re­ported that a cease­fire agree­ment has been reached be­tween rebels and Rus­sia that al­lows for an evac­u­a­tion of civil­ians and rebel fight­ers with light arms.

But Tues­day’s group re­mained wary, con­cerned that evac­u­a­tions may be only par­tial or that there could be “whole­sale slaugh­ter” of evac­u­ated rebels and civil­ians who re­mained.

“It is not a stretch of the imag­i­na­tion for it to just be a slaugh­ter­house,” Kaifo said af­ter the news con­fer­ence.

Kaifo, whose par­ents are from Aleppo, was born in Los An­ge­les but grew up in Den­ver. His fam­ily owns Shish Kabob Grill, a restau­rant near the Capi­tol. He is also a mem­ber of the Syr­ian Amer­i­can Coun­cil. Four of Kaifo’s fam­ily mem­bers have been killed in Syria. Oth­ers have fled to Beirut or Tur­key, he said.

Few Syr­i­ans live in the U.S., fewer yet in Colorado, where only 135 refugees were re­set­tled in two years, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress.

“I don’t have a pop­u­la­tion to tap on to say, ‘Come help me,’ ” Kaifo said. “I can only re­ally call on the gen­eral pub­lic.”

Kim Man­gle of Golden holds a plac­ard dur­ing a protest out­side the Colorado Capi­tol in Den­ver on Tues­day. Photos by David Zalubowski, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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Restau­ra­teur Obeid Kaifo calls for the United States to take ac­tion to pro­tect the peo­ple of Aleppo, Syria.

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