Cairo, Egypt - After Nasser Essouarn, a young activist from the Syrian city of Homs, was arrested the first time, he went home and stayed quiet for a couple of weeks. He soon found himself anxious and ready to get back out on the streets, along with other student protesters.
Essoarn, a Sunni Muslim, returned to the protests and was detained again by Assad's Alawite forces, and held for several days. When he was released, he decided his time in Syria was over. He flew to Beirut and eventually settled in Egypt.
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Since the beginning of Syria's civil war, according to UN estimates, around two million Syrians have fled the country. Most have settled in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, where the refugees are forced into over-crowded and ill-equipped camps. Some, like Essouarn, fled to the region's capital cities: Amman, Beirut, Cairo.
Now a chef at a Syrian restaurant in downtown Cairo, Essouarn and his friends from Syria meet daily and chat about their homes, their families and what once was.
Used to the daily pangs of fear over what is happening in their hometowns, these days they have a new fear: the possibility of a US attack, and what might happen next.
Halfway into its third year, the Syrian civil war could be heading into a new phase. With US President Barack Obama's plan to execute multiple military strikes on Syria currently being decided in the US congress, Syrians within the country and across the globe are struggling to make sense of the ramifications of these potential bombings in a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and has torn the nation apart.
Triggered by the recent alleged chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where reports from activists and human rights groups place the death toll anywhere from 300 to more than 1,500, the Obama administration has stated that it seeks to enforce a "global red line" over the use of chemical weapons, as well as to establish credibility in its threats to the Assad administration. The Whitehouse has yet to define in public the timeline and parameters of any potential strikes.
Only Syrians and Arab regimes can intervene. Otherwise, there will be a mass destruction of Syria and Syria will cease to exist.
The proposed military action has caused outcry around the globe from citizens and politicians alike.
"We wish for effective international intervention. Effective so the Assad regime will be undermined. The more the intervention is supported by international institutions - by the UN and others - the more legitimate it becomes," said Dr Gamal Soltan, a Cairo-based analyst at the Ahram Institute.
"The worst kind of intervention is what is suggested: not mandated by international community, controversial in the Western community, a show of American credibility. This is not something that is helpful for the regional partners," Soltan added.
Countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, which have vocally and financially supported the Syrian opposition, have been decidedly cautious about the proposed military engagement.
"The American strike is not what they wished for. It's a punishment, not the kind of interference that would end this war," Soltan said.
For many Syrians, the potential strikes bring a bitter mixture of hope, despair and confusion. Many view the attacks as a positive form of intervention, while others see it as an uncomfortable step towards another deadly war led by Washington.
"It's difficult to accept foreigners destroying your country. If this happens, Syria will become a more complex arena," said Moaz Sheikhani, a former resident of Aleppo and currently a student at Cairo University.
Some view the action as an essential step to slow a war that has no foreseeable end.
"Under these conditions, no Syrians would ever accept this deal. If the attacks are going to affect civilians, then no, I would not support it, but [targeting] military buildings and weapons, yes," Essaourn said.
Others were adamant that the strikes would be an inevitable failure, mostly killing civilians and having little effect on the conflict, other than to involve more international players.
"[The strikes are] absolutely unacceptable. These are internal matters and only Syrians should get involved," said Bashir El Barazzi, a baker from Homs.
"Syria has been emptied of revolutionary youth, only old politicians who were jailed for a long time are left. Foreign countries are supporting the different groups. Military involvement would only lead to political gains for them." Sheikhani said.
With the proposed action still being debated in the US congress, the future of the military strikes and the country are still unclear. With the conflict reaching its third year, the majority of Syrians who spoke to Al Jazeera for this report believed that the only tangible solution to end the bloodshed would be through political action.
"Only Syrians and Arab regimes can intervene," said El Barazzi. "Otherwise, there will be a mass destruction of Syria and Syria will cease to exist."
Follow Max Siegelbaum on Twitter: @SaxMiegelbaum
Source: Al Jazeera