ZAHRANI, Lebanon: In parking garages and informal housing south of Sidon city, Syrian refugees gathered around televisions and mobile phone screens throughout Friday night, waiting for any news of an expected international missile strike on Syria.
By Saturday afternoon, these refugees were weighing what the strikes meant to them as Syrians, after the United States, France and Britain struck Syrian targets with more than 100 missiles early in the morning, in a move that threatened to further destabilize their home country – and neighboring Lebanon.
Of the seven Syrian refugees whom The Daily Star interviewed Saturday, none expressed any outright support for the strikes on Syria, despite their ostensible purpose as an attempt at deterrence in response to a deadly suspected chemical attack by the government last week.
“What happened is a war crime, regardless of whether it was with the [Syrian] regime or against it,” Ajaj al-Ali, an elder within the Al-Ali tribe of Syria’s Hama city, told The Daily Star Saturday. “This was an attack on the dignity of my people,” he said.
Ali lives in a makeshift housing compound outside Sidon that serves as home to dozens of other Syrian refugees, most of whom are from Homs. Alongside his neighbors, he spent all of Friday night and early Saturday morning watching TV as news broke of the missile strikes on Syria.
The strikes followed a suspected chemical attack last weekend by Syrian government forces in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, which killed dozens of people in a holdout pocket of opposition control.
If confirmed, the attack would be the deadliest use of chemical weapons since government forces fired toxic gas one year ago on Khan Sheikhoun, a town in Syria’s Idlib province, 200km north of Damascus. Last year’s attack killed more than 70 people and spurred U.S. President Donald Trump to fire cruise missiles at a regime airbase.
Trump again threatened last Wednesday via a Twitter post to fire missiles at Syria in retaliation to the Douma chemical attack. The widely shared post did not specify where or when the missiles would hit.
Early Saturday morning, U.S., French and British forces struck two Syrian regime military facilities and a research center, Pentagon spokesman Dana White said in a press conference.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May justified the attack Saturday in a video statement as a “clear message that the international community will not stand by and tolerate the use of chemical weapons,” according to a tweet from the official account of the U.K. Embassy in Lebanon.
“This was not about interfering in a civil war. And it was not about regime change,” May wrote in the post hours after the strikes, in which British Royal Air Force planes reportedly participated.
In the makeshift Sidon housing complex, residents said they simply wanted an end to the war, and a normal life, or a way to return home safely.
“All I care about is returning to Syria,” said Hajar Fathi, a mother of three from Homs. “I don’t care who gets me back there,” she told The Daily Star while hanging her family’s clean laundry to dry.
Abu Khader, a 47-year-old farm worker who lives in the same compound, didn’t even know the missile strikes had happened until he returned from work at a nearby field later Saturday morning. With no television or smartphone to update him on the attack, Khader said the news came as a surprise.
“This is the first time I’m hearing that America is bombing Syria,” he said from his home.
Elsewhere in the housing complex, 9-year-old Tamer al-Ali played with his pet goat while other children nearby kicked around a soccer ball. Ali said he knew little about last week’s chemical attack or the aerial strikes early Saturday.
“I don’t like war or death,” Tamer told The Daily Star.
“I love life, and I love my goat.”