- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2011

Syrian protesters are urging their colleagues in the West to oppose calls for foreign military intervention, as U.S. senators push President Obama to take a stronger stand against the 12-week-old Syrian crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

“Syrians are going to save ourselves,” said Mojha Kahf, a prominent member of the opposition and associate professor of comparative literature and Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas. “We will save ourselves. “

The Washington Times talked to Syrian opposition members in the United States and Canada whose families and friends in Syria are demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.

Human rights groups estimate that the government-crackdown has caused more than 1,300 civilians deaths, 10,000 arrests and more than 8,500 refugees.

Oubab Khalil, a Syrian opposition figure and property manager in Arkansas, said opposition members fear foreign intervention could result in more repression from Mr. Assad.

“He can use humans as shields, he might also go on killing sprees and accuse all the foreign military personnel that they have done this,” he said.

Ms. Kahf said the protesters want Western political support, saying the United States and other countries should remove their ambassadors from Damascus. Western nations should also pressure Syria to allow aid and humanitarian relief to protesters and open the country to human rights investigators, she said.

“There’s still a whole lot that can be done politically and economically by the international community,” Ms. Kahf said. “We’re not willing to go the Libya route.”

Osama Kadi, a Canadian resident and president of the Washington-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said military intervention should be a last resort.

“If they are killing us, city after city, maybe at that time we should ask for help,” Mr. Kadi said, adding that any military aid should be requested from neighbors like Turkey.

Earlier this week, U.S. senators began calling on Mr. Obama to take stronger measures against the Syrian regime.

“How much longer do we allow Assad to use tanks and helicopters to kill his own people before somebody interferes and does something about it?” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican asked on Wednesday.

“The Libyan model should be looked at in terms of how we engage Syria if things continue to deteriorate,” he added, referring to the NATO airwar designed to protect civilians in the Libyan civil war.

Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican; Joe Liebermann, Connecticut independent; Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat; and Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, have also called for a stronger U.S. condemnation of Mr. Assad’s regime.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday the U.S. would continue to use diplomatic and political measures against Mr. Assad. He declined to comment on whether the U.S. would consider a military intervention.

“We’re pursuing a set of actions …that we believe is isolating Assad, and we’re going to continue to pursue those actions and to isolate him further and to bring more international pressure to bear on him,” Mr. Toner said.