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Cynical Syrians Dismiss Peace Talks As Irrelevant


For Syrian refugees just over the border in Turkey from Syria, peace talks in Geneva seem a long way away. Many of these people dismiss them as irrelevant. But NPR's Alice Fordham reports that others welcome any hope for peace.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Here in the physical therapy center of a health clinic run by and for Syrians just on the Turkish side of the border, most people have been injured in bombings or fighting. There's one little boy here, Saddam, who's seven years old. He was hit by shrapnel and damaged his spinal cord. Now he's here learning to walk again.

SADDAM: (Through interpreter) I get shrapnel in my back.

FORDHAM: How did that happen, Saddam?

SADDAM: (Through interpreter) I was walking and there's mines. It explodes and I get shrapnel.

FORDHAM: One young man winces in pain as he pedals an exercise bike with his damaged legs. An older man builds up the muscles in his shattered hand. There's a woman whose paralysis isn't the result of the war, but she says there are no hospitals in Syria anymore. No one's exactly confident about talks in Switzerland, but they are watching them and in the face of so much suffering, some people seem to think, well, why not? It might just be a good start.

YASSER AL SAYID: (Speaking foreign language)

FORDHAM: Yasser Al Sayid, who runs the clinic, says that Ahmed Jarba, the opposition leader, is doing his best. Mr. Sayid says the international community should support the overthrow of what he calls a criminal regime. Mr. Sayid's not a doctor. He's a lawyer who says he defended activists and fled the country when he himself was threatened with prosecution.

SAYID: (Speaking foreign language)

FORDHAM: He says the Americans could order Bashar al-Assad to leave power and he would. He says that Americans were able to force the Syrian president to give up his chemical weapons and that if they wanted to, they could end his rule. Many people are angry and cynical. One patient, Abdulrahman Alloush, was a rebel fighter along the Syrian/Lebanese border. He says that the political opposition never did anything for him.

ABDULRAHMAN ALLOUSH: (Through interpreter) I do not believe in the Geneva conference. It's useless. After the conference, the regime will just back to killing Muslims. The coalition does not represent me and does nothing for the people inside Syria.

FORDHAM: In a room across the hall lies Kheiry Staif. She says she was paralyzed when a helicopter dropped a barrel full of explosives on her village outside the city of Hama.

KHEIRY STAIF: (Speaking foreign language)

FORDHAM: She was trying to protect her infant daughter, who survived unharmed. She says she doesn't know much about the peace talks.

STAIF: (Through interpreter) I don't know. God willing, it will be - there's some solution about.

FORDHAM: Who do you think has the power to change the situation in Syria?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) God willing, the opposition.

FORDHAM: Obviously there are many opinions. After all, the UN says there are more than 70,000 Syrian refugees now living in this Turkish border province of Hatay. Many of them are in the city of Antakya. We're walking down Mezerlik Street. This where lots of the Syrians come to hang out together in the evening.

HANI NAJJAR: This area here, this street, most of the people here are Syrian. We have here some Syrian brothers, most of them, you see all labels in the Arabic font.

FORDHAM: That's Hani Najjar from Aleppo. He used to work as a designer, but now he helps run this grocery. When Syrians get together, he says they mostly talk about the revolution. Lately, they've been discussing the talks in Switzerland, but he doesn't hold out much hope for the meetings between the Syrian regime and the political opposition.

NAJJAR: No one represent the revolution in this conference in Geneva. All this opposition, they are made by other countries.

FORDHAM: The shopkeeper's friends aren't sure what they expect from the talks. One says he's suffered under Assad, but now he just wants to go home and he doesn't care whether it's under Assad or the opposition. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Antakya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.