Politicians, Syrian-American plead for the people of Aleppo
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
Restaurateur Obeid Kaifo calls for the United States to take action to protect the people of Aleppo, Syria.