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Charleston activist groups protest U.S. military intervention in Syria

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rev. Jim Lewis remembers his time in Iraq in 1990, just before the start of the Gulf War, as a time of strife and turmoil.

"Saddam (Hussein) was holding thousands of hostages. When I came back, I tried to organize people who were willing to say, 'Mr. President, don't send troops there.' They sent them over," said Lewis, a former pastor at St. John's Episcopal Church in Charleston. "Once you put troops in an area, war ships with tomahawk missiles, you're really announcing your plan to commit to a war."

Lewis and members of Patriots for Peace and the West Virginia Citizen Action Group staged a protest against American intervention in another Middle Eastern country at Haddad Riverfront Park in Charleston on Sunday.

More than 30 people gathered with signs to protest American military action in Syria and to urge the state's representatives in Congress to do the same, he said.

Lewis said that a unilateral response from the U.S. would likely cause more problems for Syria, a country in the midst of a civil war. President Barack Obama called for U.S. military intervention in Syria on Saturday, but will wait for congressional approval before taking any action.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that the U.S. has confirmed that Syria's government used chemical weapons, including Sarin gas, in a strike on Aug. 21 that killed at least 1,429 of its citizens.

"To do this is just to enter a situation in turmoil," Lewis said. "We would be creating more havoc and turmoil -- more bloodshed, more refugees, and if we were to do that right now, it would be a huge mistake."

Lewis said the two organizations chose Haddad Riverfront Park because of its big attraction right now; the LST 325, a WWII-era naval landing ship docked at the park until Tuesday.

"Our ships are off the coast of Syria right now; they're ready to hit," he said. "When you get to that point, it's hard to stop it from happening."

Gary Zuckett, executive director of the WVCAG, said he approves of the president's decision to defer to Congress, and said he believes that U.S. citizens are against unilateral action in Syria.

"It's a situation that really needs to be dealt with at the international level," Zuckett said. "One nation taking unilateral action against Syria for this attack that has so far not been definitively attributed to anyone; I think it's premature to go sending troops to Syria.

"I think the majority of the citizens in this country do not want us to get into another war in the Middle East."

Lewis said a response from the U.S. alone would do little to help the situation in Syria, and only widespread intervention from neighboring nations could create a positive change in the country.

"Solutions have to come from on the ground. You've got Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other nations who are now the recipients of the refugees who are pouring out of there," he said. "If we're concerned about all of the people who are suffering there, we should know that dropping missiles on this country right now will only create more refugees and more turmoil. If a solution is going to come, it has to come from those parties in that region."

Sunday's protest follows a rally Wednesday at the Capitol in Charleston to show solidarity for the victims of violence in Syria. More than 50 people gathered at the Capitol to urge U.S. intervention in the Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the last two years.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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