With congressional vote imminent, relative reveals tragedy of life in Syria

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on September 8, 2013 at 9:49 PM

Updated Sunday, Sep 8 at 9:49 PM

FRISCO — Seven-thousand miles separate Dallas from Damascus, but Ranya Sabbagh's relative asks for anonymity because she fears Bashar al-Assad’s government will arrest her if her critical views are revealed.

"Do you think that you could be a victim?," Sabbagh asked her over a video call on the Internet. "Yes I'm expecting it," the relative replied.

"She's extremely scared," Sabbagh explained to News 8. "She tries to appear strong."

The situation in Syria is more dire than many realize, her relative revealed.

Electricity remains scarce; her windows are now sealed after the sarin chemical bomb exploded recently; a go-bag with important papers sits next to her bed; and she is delaying a surgery because she doesn't want to be too weak if she has to flee.

In addition, the relative said, borders with neighboring countries are closed, trapping Syrian civilians in the bloody civil war.

"We are expecting bombings," she said. "We are expecting shells."

News 8 first reported on Ranya Sabbagh last year after she sneaked across the border into Syria to meet with rebel leaders and see the humanitarian disaster for herself.

Sabbagh just returned from Turkey last week where — as part of the Syrian American Council — she helped coordinate $650 million in U.S. aid.

She is also pushing America to act after Syria detonated that chemical bomb.

"If we don't do something, our enemies will," Sabbagh said.

"The fact that 1,400 people were killed is an act of astonishing cruelty," said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Lewisville). "But there were 100,000 people who were killed prior to that."

That figure is widely believed to be the number of civilians, soldiers and rebels who have been killed since the Syrian civil war began in March, 2011.

Still, Rep. Burgess is among a growing number of lawmakers who oppose the Obama administration's threat to launch an air strike on that Middle Eastern country in retaliation for using chemical weapons.

"If your goal — you state your goal up front is, we're not going to be involved in regime change," Burgess said. "What purpose are you trying to serve here? If you're going to send a message, then [use] Western Union."

"If you know there's a modern-day Hitler that's killing and gassing his own people, would you still say, 'Let's not meddle with other people's business?'" Sabbagh added.

U.S. involvement in the Syrian crisis is a complex political problem, one that Ranya's relative lives with daily and still hopes she can survive.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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