Clashing Perspectives From Syria's Coastal City of Latakia

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. President Obama has been almost entirely focused on Syria for the past few days. His plea for international support for a US military strike in Syria overshadowed other topics at the just-concluded G-20 summit in Russia. And today as he wrapped up the summit, Obama pivoted back toward the domestic debate on Syria. He said he'd speak to the American people about it next Tuesday. And while that debate rages in Washington and elsewhere, the fighting in Syria continues, and people's anxiety there continues to rise. I spoke earlier with two residents of the northern coastal city of Latakia. First an opposition activist who goes by the name Omar. He described the mood in the city today.

Omar: There are long lines up on bakeries and gas stations. Number of army and security checkpoints have increased inside the city. People now, they are preparing for war, and they are expecting a Western intervention here. Many people here support this intervention and want it to happen.

Werman: So Omar, would you welcome US air strikes in Latakia? Would you welcome US air strikes anywhere in Syria?

Omar: Yes, yes, we support this intervention and I think more of Syrians think the foreign intervention will help us. The Western countries have to take its responsibility in helping Syrian people achieve peace and freedom.

Werman: Are you worried about civilian casualties and other unintended consequences of air strikes? Maybe even the war spreads across Syrian borders.

Omar: Yes, we are very afraid. We are afraid, but Syrian people, we are living war right now. More than 100,000 people are dead in this war. We are afraid, yes, but we think it will stop this war.

Werman: Latakia, as you said, there are many Alawites there. I'd assume that many residents in Latakia don't support Western intervention.

Omar: Of course, yes. Alawite is on our [south borders??] so they don't support this intervention. And we are, as Sunnis, we are afraid of their revenge if this strike will happen.

Werman: I'm wondering what you think of critics who say that the rebels, the opposition, is infiltrated by Al Qaeda, so why should the US be essentially assisting Al Qaeda?

Omar: Some people in Syrian community is not like Afghanistan or Yemen, they are not supporting Al Qaeda, so yes, there is Al Qaeda, but it's very small, in small area in northern Syria, and they are, they don't have the [peculiarity??] there.

Werman: You know, Sunnis and Alawites have managed to co-exist in Syria for a long time. Can you imagine living side-by-side with Alawites when and if this whole conflict is over? Is that going to even be possible?

Omar: I think yes, we can. We are right now in Latakia. We live together, and yes, we can.

Werman: Reem is also a resident of Latakia. Reem, how would you describe your allegiances right now? Are you pro-Assad, are you welcoming US air strikes?

Reem: No, we are not welcoming the air strikes.

Werman: So you support the Syrian army. Can you tell us why, after everything we've been reading about the government's actions over the past two and a half years?

Reem: Because it's protecting our country from Al Qaeda and from the foreigners who are fighting in our country, the extremists.

Werman: What do you think is going to happen if there is some kind of intervention, a US-led air strike, for example?

Reem: Oh, it will be catastrophic. it will be catastrophic for everybody, especially the minorities.

Werman: And do you consider yourself in the minority in Syria?

Reem: Yeah, I'm a minority, I'm from the minority here.

Werman: Can you tell me which minority?

Reem: Alawite.

Werman: Alawite, so why would it be catastrophic for Alawites, for other minorities, if there is some sort of air strike?

Reem: It will be chaos and there will be violence and there will be bloodbath for minorities, not only the Alawites, also Christian, [xx], all the minorities.

Werman: Can I ask you what your reaction was when you heard about the chemical weapons attack last month outside of Damascus and that it's very likely the responsibility of the Assad regime?

Reem: Don't you think it's early to talk about this? Don't we have to wait for the lab analysis?

Werman: That is a fair point, but a lot of people are saying that the evidence.

Reem: Do you remember Iraq?

Werman: I very clearly remember Iraq, and a lot of people have raised the spector of Iraq with this current situation.

Reem: We have to have solid evidence. In common sense, I don't think the Assad regime used it because he doesn't need it.

Werman: That was Reem, a resident of Latakia, Syria.