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Local Syrians divided in their reaction to US military action

Mahmoud Elsayed spent Thursday night watching news updates about Syria from his restaurant in Allston.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Mahmoud Elsayed said he stayed up all night Thursday in his Allston restaurant watching news reports about the US missile attack that struck a government-controlled air base in central Syria.

After six years of civil war, Elsayed said he hoped that the strike ordered by President Trump would be the long-awaited impetus for peace in his native country.

“We’ve bled enough. We don’t have any more blood to bleed. We cry and we don’t have any more tears to cry,” said Elsayed, 35, who owns Tarboosh Pizza & Mediterranean Grill.

In interviews Friday with the Globe, Elsayed’s plea for peace was a universal theme among area residents with ties to Syria.


But whether the attack would end the fighting or open a new chapter in the violent battle was up for debate. Some also wondered whether the military action was an opening salvo by the United States or a one-time show of force.

“What’s the strategic goal here? Where are we going?” asked Nael Hafez, 42, who moved to the United States from Syria as a child and called the US intervention overdue. “What if [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad didn’t get the message? What are we willing to do?”

The assault was retaliation for a deadly attack that US officials believe Syrian government aircraft launched with the nerve agent sarin mixed with chlorine gas.

The chemical bombings in Idlib province, a northern rebel-held area, killed scores of people. Footage of people dying in the streets and bodies of children sparked international outcry over the suffering.

Dr. Omar Salem, an orthodontist who lives in Canton, said he hopes the US attack sends a strong message to Syria’s allies in Iran and Russia and invigorates efforts to negotiate a truce.

Salem, who has been in the United States for 21 years, also leads the board of directors for the Karam Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to improve life in Syria. Millions of refugees, he said, want to go back.


“The refugees don’t want to be refugees. They want to go home,” said Salem, who is a US citizen.

At one level, Salem and others said the US strike offered a modicum of relief. Finally, there were consequences for atrocities in Syria, they said.

“This was an overdue punishment for the Syrian government that has been committing crimes against the Syrian people for the last six years,” said Mohamad Al Bardan, 29, who moved to the United States in 2011. “It was a moment of relief to see some action.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama threatened military action in Syria after an earlier chemical weapons attack killed hundreds outside Damascus. But Obama relented after Congress and Britain balked at his plan.

Al Bardan, who lives in Cambridge, said he called his father in Damascus and told him about Thursday’s assault. His father tried to turn on the television to get more news, but the electricity was out, Al Bardan said.

“They’re consumed with stability and safety,” he said. “They just want peace.”

Some Syrian-Americans, however, criticized Trump. The president didn’t fully investigate the chemical attack or who was behind it before launching missiles, they said.

“We don’t go into a country based on pictures, on what the media is saying,” said Kinda Touma, who is originally from Aleppo and now lives in the South End.


Touma said Trump should have sought congressional approval first.

“It’s part of the Constitution here that we have to,” said Touma, who is a US citizen. “You just can’t go by yourself and attack a country. There are consequences.”

Dr. Eyad Salloum, 44, who grew up in Damascus, said he doesn’t believe the Syrian government orchestrated the chemical attack. Terrorist groups that roam that region are more likely suspects, he said.

“Is it possible that President Trump is getting his information from a YouTube video,” asked Salloum, a dentist who lives in Foxborough. “There must be a better way to investigate when there’s an allegation like this.”

He said he worries that the US intervention could bring even more violence to Syria.

“After six years of war, they were starting to see some new light at the end of the tunnel and now this is a whole new era in the conflict,” said Salloum, who is a US citizen.

Sam Tulimat, 27, who lives in Medford, said he felt divided. On one hand, life in Syria couldn’t get any worse, he said. But why is Trump taking military action against the Syrian government while simultaneously seeking to block its refugees from entering the country, he asked.

“It’s still not clear to me,” said Tulimat, who grew up in Homs. “What is the administration’s plan here?”

At the least, Elsayed, the restaurant owner who came to the US in 2012, said the Syrian government now knows it can’t hurt its people with impunity.


“You cannot cross the red line,” he said. “We’re not going to sit and watch.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.