The fight is between brother and brother’

Many parishioners at St. Ephrem church are opposed to a missile strike in Syria.
Tony Kassis, a local cardiologist, and his wife, Hazar Kassis, believe that any U.S. reaction is two years too late and that a military strike is not the answer. BOB MACK/The Times-Union
BOB MACK/The Times-Union

Tony Kassis, a local cardiologist, and his wife, Hazar Kassis, believe that any U.S. reaction is two years too late and that a military strike is not the answer.

Wajeeh Demetree is from Syria and still has family there. He is against any military action and protested for the U.S. to keep “hands off Syria” earlier this week in Hemming Plaza. BOB MACK/The Times-Union

Maged Zumot said he supports President Barack Obama and what he and Congress decide but is 100 percent against war. BOB MACK/The Times-Union

The Rev. Selwan Taponi, the priest at St. Ephrem Syriac Catholic Church, spoke on the impact the civil war in Syria. BOB MACK/The Times-Union

By David Bauerlein

At St. Ephrem Syriac Catholic Church in Jacksonville, parishioners said prayers for people Sunday as they have at so many other Sunday Masses in Syriac, Arabic and English.

A day after President Barack Obama announced he will seek congressional authorization for a military strike on Syria, the question of what comes next looms large for parishioners of St. Ephrem, a church with a large number of Syrian and Iraqi family connections.

The Rev. Selwan Taponi said most of the parishioners he speaks with are opposed to the U.S. launching missiles into Syria. They are skeptical about whether military action can change the course of events for the better and worried about relatives living in Syria amid continuing bloodshed.

Jacksonville resident Wajeeh Demetree’s voice was still hoarse from shouting during a “Hands Off Syria” rally Thursday at Hemming Plaza. He said he wants Congress to refuse to authorize military force.

“Punishment is not the answer,” he said. “The answer is to sit down and have peace. Fighting fire with fire leads to more destruction and lost lives.”

He said he hasn’t seen convincing proof that the Syrian government used chemical weapons. If that proof is forthcoming, he said the United States should work through the United Nations to form an international coalition. As it stands, he said, the civil war in Syria has become a proxy war for other nations supporting either the government or the rebels.

“The fight is between brother and brother,” he said. “But it’s being financed by people outside of Syria.”

Maged Zumot, also worshiping Sunday at St. Ephrem, was among those who support Obama’s call for congressional authorization. Zumot said he worries if there is no response to the use of chemical weapons, it will only lead to more chemical weapon attacks and more bloodshed.

“I want people 100 percent, but we have to stop the evil,” he said.

Tony Kassis and his wife, Hazar, said a U.S. missile strike would not do anything to bring the fighting in Syria to an end, so they want Congress to not authorize military action.

Tony Kassis said he thinks the U.S. could target the missile strikes to avoid civilians, but he fears the “day after” will unleash more chaos and anarchy.

“A lot of people have died without the person killing them even knowing what side they were on,” he said. “It’s a human disaster unfolding in front of our eyes. It has to be stopped.”

“We are powerful enough to intervene diplomatically so we get all sides around the table to talk,” Hazar Kassis said. “At the end of the day, it is the civilians and our relatives who are paying the price.”, (904) 359-4581