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Syrians rally against Assad regime, protest reported chemical attacks

Salah Shaar of Somerville, a former drug store owner in Idlib, Syria, was among Saturday’s protesters. He described being tortured by security forces after being arrested at a rally.

The Boston Globe

Salah Shaar of Somerville, a former drug store owner in Idlib, Syria, was among Saturday’s protesters. He described being tortured by security forces after being arrested at a rally.

Nadia Alawa stood in Copley Square on Saturday afternoon in front of a table full of green, white, and black Syrian opposition merchandise: flags, T-shirts, iPhone cases. Around her, about 75 people were calling for more international intervention in Syria, for the end of President Bashar Assad’s regime, and protesting last week’s reported chemical attacks.

Alawa, one of the rally’s organizers, buzzed around the table, stuffing cash and checks for NuDay Syria, an aid organization she works for, into a decorated shoebox and handing out drinks and fliers. She was hoping to make strides toward her goal of raising $25,000 for food, diapers, toiletries, and antidotes for chemical weapons, which Syrian rebels and outside groups have said were used in Syria on Wednesday.

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“They need so much on the inside,” she said.

It is unclear how many people died in Wednesday’s attacks. Activists and opposition figures reported numbers ranging from 322 to 1,300, according to the Associated Press. Doctors Without Borders, the French humanitarian group, said 355 of about 3,600 patients treated for “neurotoxic symptoms” starting on Wednesday have died.

Assad’s government has denied launching chemical attacks, and said the rebels are responsible for the deaths.

“We can argue about who did it, but I have enough information about what’s going on — I know who did it,” said Omar Salem of Canton. “If this goes on with no action, I think we are going to see much more events happening, very soon and very quick.”

Salem and his wife, Zeina Salem, came to the rally with their sons, 11 and 9 years old, and 14-month-old daughter.

Zeina Salem walked around the perimeter, passing out fliers and talking to passers-by about the country where she was raised. She left Syria in 2000 and has spent the past 11 years in Massachusetts, she said.

“I think American government — President Obama — can help a lot if he wants to,” she said. “Put more pressure on Russians, because they’ve been helping [the Assad regime] a lot. Iran, too. . . . Support rebels with active weapons.”

Omar Salem returned in July from a two-week trip to refugee camps in Syria and Jordan, he said. The couple tries to keep their sons updated about what is happening in the country.

“They love Syria because they used to go every year, we used to go every summer there,” Zeina Salem said. “They ask why we’re not going there, and they see we’re very sad always.”

Salah Shaar, 61, said he was at a rally outside the drugstore he owned in Idlib, Syria, in late December. Syrian security forces accused him of aiding the rebels and arrested him.

Over the next month, Shaar said, he lived with 92 others in a room of less than 150 square feet. There was no medical care, little food, and prisoners were infested with lice and suffering from skin diseases.

Shaar was beaten regularly, he said. Guards hit his shoulders, back, and feet with iron and wooden weapons. He lost 40 pounds.

“If they want to torture them, they stop the fans and it becomes really humid, and you see the drops of water coming down from the ceiling,” said Saeed Arida of Somerville, who was helping Shaar translate his words from Arabic.

Shaar was released in early February after a pardon for protestors who had been arrested but had not used guns, he said. He fled to Turkey and joined his son in Somerville in March.

“We wish to be animals, we wish to be chickens, we wish to be rats,” Shaar said. “We wish to be anything, because we cannot move. . . . They beat us everywhere.”

Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan @globe.com.
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