NEWS
13/04/2018 15:05 BST | Updated 13/04/2018 18:05 BST

Kassem Eid Was Gassed In Syria In 2013 – This Is What He Wants The West To Do Now

'I can’t move on with my life when I see the same murders and killing of the people I grew up with all over again with the same horrible weapons'.

Donald Trump has written explosive tweets, Russian diplomats have issued stark military warnings, and European leaders have urged caution. But as the row over the use of chemical weapons in Syria escalates, one set of voices risks being drowned out: that of ordinary Syrians themselves. 

For Kassem Eid, a 32-year-old who was until 2013 a resident of Moadhamiyeh, a suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus, the next step is simple. A victim of the chemical weapons the Syrian army has deployed on the country’s civilians, Eid says: “I think (the West) should kill Assad.”

As with the 2017 Khan Sheikhoun incident where at least 74 people were killed by a nerve agent, the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded the Syrian regime was likely responsible for the 2013 attack witnessed by Eid.

Like many of the Syrian residents, refugees and exiles HuffPost UK spoke to, Eid supports military intervention that would remove Assad and allow space for Syrians themselves to take part in free and fair elections.

The town he grew up in was besieged by President Bashar al-Assad’s army in June of 2012, and the remaining 10,000 or so civilians sheltering there were “reduced to eating trash and the leaves from trees,” Eid recalls. 

By the end of the summer, the military situation in Syria was precarious for the regime. Opposition forces were at the outskirts of the capital and many of Assad’s supporters, who hold a majority of the powerful positions in the military, had left the city to focus their defensive efforts elsewhere. 

Bassam Khabieh / Reuters
Bodies of people killed in the attack that Eid survived in 2013 in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus. 

In the early hours of 21 August 2013, the residential areas of Moadhamiyeh was bombed with sarin, a deadly nerve agent banned under international law.

“I’ve seen a lot of fucked up shit in my life. I’ve seen Assad bomb children into pieces, I’ve seen women being raped, I’ve seen men getting butchered and burned alive, all this shit but I will say that the look on that little boy’s face during the chemical attack...” Eid told HuffPost UK. 

“There was a boy who was choking. I was trying to save him, and while I looked at his face he was choking and his eyes were glassy and this foam was coming out of his mouth... It’s the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Eid now lives in the US - he was lucky enough to be able to escape Syria through Lebanon. He now lives in the United States and is publishing a book titled My Country: A Syrian Memoir.

But he feels deeply affected by the news of the latest chemical attack, launched on the town of Douma last weekend.

Kassem Eid
Kassem Eid pictured in Moadhamiyeh, Syria, in 2013.

The World Health Organisation said on Wednesday around 500 people had been treated for “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals” after a suspected poison gas attack on the rebel enclave just before it fell.

Around 70 people are thought to have died.

“It’s the most fucked up deja vu anyone can have in their life. You see it coming, you see it happening, you were there, you were choking, you were surrounded by dead people.

“Then it happens again. Then it happens again. Then it happens again.”

Eid said every time he tries to move on with his life, and recover from his experience of the sarin attack, he is hit by a reminder of what happened. “I can’t move on with my life when I see the same murders and killing of the people I grew up with all over again with the same horrible weapons,” he says. 

Guilt also hangs over him. 

“I feel guilty for being safe while they are suffering. I feel guilty for being able to express my mind and troll presidents or say whatever I feel like saying, when I know hundreds of thousands of people are getting tortured and raped inside of detention centres just because they said the word ‘freedom’.”

Stringer . / Reuters
Children walk along a damaged street filled with debris in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka October 3, 2013.

Eid’s view is echoed by a number of other Syrians HuffPost UK spoke to, most of whom have been forced to leave their homes for the safety of other countries.

Some names have been changed and locations kept secret as relatives of people who speak out against the regime who still live in Syria can face retribution from Assad’s security services and extremist groups.

One Syrian man, Mounir, who didn’t want to reveal his location, said: “I think the West should bomb Assad’s presidential Palace and ground his air force because I think that will save Syrian lives.

“Chemical weapons use is horrid but it’s only fraction of the regime’s crimes.”

Another man in Syria, who asked to remain anonymous, said many Syrians are “expressing their excitement and happiness publicly... using jokes” and shared some social media posts and memes currently doing the rounds.

This post published on Facebook on Wednesday reads: “The joy of the Syrians for America to bombard the regime of tyrant Bashar.”

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The Syrian man added: “People are so sad for the death and displacement in Ghouta and so frustrated because of the international ignorance about the Syrian suffering and the lack of accountability after chemical attacks.

He said the promise of military intervention is being greeted by hope, as the “only way to stop the killing machine”. 

Makhzoul currently lives in Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria  - he was a 17 when he was arrested and tortured by the Assad regime for participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Asked what he thought about a possible UK strike, ho told HuffPost UK: “I wish for it. It’s too late, like seven years too late, but it’s better than nothing.”

Yasmin grew up in Europe but visits family in Syria regularly. She took a more cautious approach, telling HuffPost UK: “Syrians on the ground I spoke to are against it because it will bring more humanitarian problems and their experience of the Americans is from Raqqa where they did use white phosphorus - a weapon prohibited under international law.