Syria war spills on to local streets
by: PAUL MALEY
From: The Australian October 07, 2013
SYRIA'S two-year-old civil war is spilling on to the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, with advocates on both sides claiming violence and persecution are commonplace.
Sonya El-Abbas, a Melbourne-based nurse who has twice visited Syria to assist in humanitarian relief efforts, said her husband's car had been firebombed and the family home attacked.
"Basically, they tried to burn it while we were in Syria and prior to that they tried to shoot at us at our home," Ms El-Abbas said. "We were copping it big time.
"Ms El-Abbas, whose brother Robert was killed in the conflict last year, said her husband's car displayed the emblem of the Free Syrian Army, with whom she had worked during her trips to Syria.
Ms El-Abbas said Australians were heavily involved in the Syrian conflict although she stressed they were working in a humanitarian capacity, not as fighters. "I've seen heaps of people go after I've come back and a lot of people want to go," she said. "Every day I come across these people and not to fight, no." Jamal Daoud, an opponent of the uprising, said he was routinely abused and threatened. Mr Daoud was assaulted on the street, with his attacker convicted.
"For the last one year we have seen a lot of attacks on the Shia," he said.
"There have been a lot of attacks on Shia and Alawi businesses. We are also seeing boycotts of business.
"Syria's civil war has pitted the country's Sunni Muslims against the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The Alawites are a Syrian-origin offshoot of Shia Islam.In Australia, much of the sectarian division has been played out online, with Facebook pages and websites naming Shia businesses and urging boycotts.Police have also seen a rise in the transmission of gruesome footage from the war, which proliferates quickly in the community via text message or social media.
Generally, though, police have played down suggestions the conflict was generating ethnic tensions in Australia, arguing much of the violence thought to have been triggered by the war has in fact been criminal or personal disputes overlaid with a sectarian veneer.
However, there is no doubt the pipeline of Australians travelling to Syria is keeping police and ASIO busy. ASIO routinely interviews Australians known to have travelled to Syria, typically inviting people to meet at a restaurant.
Asked if she had been contacted by ASIO, Ms Abbas said simply: "Of course".
"The minute you come back from the airport, even if you've got nothing on you they'll go, 'Go to Customs'," she said."(They) check your bags and see what photos you've got, they take your phone away.
"The head of the Australian Syrian Association, Mohammad Al-Hamwi, agreed the war had exacerbated tensions. He had received more than 23 threats on his mobile phone. Mr Hamwi, whose group supported the uprising, said the two groups were wary of travelling into Shia or Sunni enclaves.
"There are some (Shia) areas where we don't go and vice versa," Mr Hamwi said.