Local Syrians protest possible military action by U.S.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - August 30, 2013

The Lehigh Valley is home to an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 people of Syrian descent.

Some 150 to 200 took to the streets Friday, chanting slogans like, "U.S., NATO: Hands off Syria!"

This is an emotional issue. The fear is that if the Obama Administration orders an attack on the Assad regime, it could plunge Syria into civil chaos.

"We are asking Mr. Obama to stop interfering," said May Issa of Allentown. "We don't want war. It's the same scenario as Iraq."

Many here are second- and third-generation Americans, and most are Christians. Many still have family in Syria.

Their concern is that among the rebels are jihadists whose goal, they believe, is to take control of Syria and target Christians and other minorities who are now protected by Assad.

"If he goes, what is going to happen is probably a harsh Islamic regime is going to take over," said Rev. Afaf Atoyeh-Darcy of Allentown.

But what about the suspected use of chemical weapons last week?

The U.S. said Friday it has high confidence the attack was carried out by the Syrian government.

These protesters say that makes no sense. Why do that, they ask, knowing U.N. inspectors were there?

"So very, very foolish of the regime to use chemical weapons while investigators, while the U.N. is there in Damascus," said Aziz Wehbey of the American Syrian Society.

The thinking here is that al Qaeda elements unleashed chemicals to trigger a Western attack on Assad.

"Who benefits most by a chemical attack? Certainly not him," said Nabil Mahrtam of Allentown, referring to Assad. "It will only expand the conflict."

This was the first mass gathering in this area, but organizers say there will be more.

They say they have an important message that America needs to hear.

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