TORONTO — A major Canadian-Syrian community group expressed surprise and relief Friday over airstrikes carried out by the U.S. in Syria, saying the move sparked hope that a turning point may have been reached in the country's conflict.
Faisal Alazem, a spokesman for the Syrian Canadian Council, said Thursday's missile strike was long overdue in light of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Syrian regime.
He said it's "comforting" to see punitive measures taken against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government because only then will there be incentive to change.
Alazem said he hopes the U.S. bombing — a response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people — isn't merely symbolic.
"The hope is to have a larger campaign that focuses on protecting civilians in Syria," he said.
"The focus has been, in the past few months and maybe in the last two years, on the resettlement of refugees that have left Syria but we often forget that refugees are the symptom of a problem, and that problem is the abuse of human rights and mass atrocities across Syria."
U.S. President Donald Trump has said he was moved to act by the sight of children killed in the sarin-gas attack.
The U.S. strikes —59 missiles launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter — hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria, where U.S. officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off. The missiles targeted the base's airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said.
Alazem said he hoped the U.S. airstrikes signalled future action on Syria.
"Hopefully we are seeing a new momentum and a new dynamic by the international community to put an end to this horror and truly have a transition in Syria that would allow Syrians to come back and feel safe and feel protected in their homeland," he said.
Alazem credited horrific photos showing the aftermath of the chemical attack, including images of suffering children, for fuelling international outrage.
A similar response to photos of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned while trying to flee to Greece with his family, spurred efforts to welcome refugees two years ago, he said.
Alazem also praised the Canadian government for supporting the strike while emphasizing the need for diplomacy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Canada supports what he called the "limited focused action" by the U.S. in retaliation for the sarin attack.
He also denounced the use of chemical weapons, saying "the crimes the Syrian regime has committed against its own people cannot be ignored.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press