Syrian opposition calls for weapons from Canada; Harper says no military mission

OTTAWA – A group representing Syrian Canadians says Syrians living in this country are divided over the prospect of military intervention in Syria following a deadly chemical attack.

The United States and Britain, with the political backing of Canada and other allies, appear on the verge of launching military action in Syria for the first time since the start of that country’s civil war.

Most recent arrivals to Canada from Syria have relatives and friends still living in their homeland, where continuing battles have killed more than 100,000 people, devastated towns and sent tens of thousands fleeing into refugee camps.

As talk of military intervention escalated this week, concern also grew among Syrian Canadians about how international strikes against Syria will impact civilians, says a spokesman for the Syrian Association of Ottawa.

“A lot of people are with mixed feelings right now,” said Yaman Marwah.

“Some people agree that we need an international intervention. Other people think that it’s totally not necessary.”

But Marwah says he supports such an intervention as a mechanism designed to bring pressure on the regime of Bashar Assad to end the bloodshed in Syria.

“I think that’s the only solution we’re left with.”

Britain’s lawmakers debated a resolution Thursday that would give the government of David Cameron tacit approval for military intervention.

The British prime minister said he and U.S. President Barack Obama have agreed that action must be taken following a chemical attack last week that killed more than 1,000 people on the outskirts of Damascus, many of them children.

But both Britain and the United States insist they have not decided yet whether to launch military attacks.

Many current and former Syrian nationals are angry it has taken so long for the western world to take action to end the bloodshed in Syria, said Marwah.

“We have strong evidence that this is the 30th time that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but this was the most effective time,” he said.

“I am really disappointed that the international community (waited) until 1,500 people were killed before they could start interfering. We all know how brutal this regime is.”

Syrians living in Ottawa were hoping to hear answers Thursday from the leader of a Syrian opposition group about its plans to deal with the civil war.

George Sabra, the head of the Western-backed Syrian National Council, is on a multi-city Canadian tour with stops so far in Montreal and Ottawa.

Sabra acknowledged during a visit to Montreal on Wednesday that there are “a few thousand” jihadists as part of his coalition.

But he played down their influence within a key rebel group fighting against the Assad regime.

Sabra told supporters that his group’s primary goal is to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but he also wants Canada and other Western nations to supply more weapons to opposition forces.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking in Toronto Thursday, said his government is reluctant to get involved in a military intervention in Syria, but knows there is a risk of escalated chemical weapons attacks should no action be taken.

Harper added that Canada has “no plans” for a direct Canadian military mission in Syria.