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Boston and Beyond

December 29, 2013

Immigrants horrified by war in native Syria

LOWELL (AP) — Wadia Khabazeh, a Syrian immigrant, knows how violence can tear lives apart.

She didn't learn that overseas as some may assume. When she lived in her hometown of Sednaya, a Christian city a few miles north of Syria's capital Damascus, she said the country was at peace — a delightful place to live. She has stories of neighbors walking in through doors without knocking to eat and visit with friends, of family members helping one another out and grand Christmas celebrations held every December with a tree decorated outside the Convent of Our Lady, one of the oldest monasteries in the world.

It didn't resemble any of the images broadcast on international television today, of war-torn cities with bloodied streets, mutilated civilians and collapsing buildings.

Khabazeh came to Lowell some 20 years ago with her parents who were looking to start a better life. She graduated from UMass in 2003 and pursued a career as a multilingual interpreter. She started a family, and took trips back home to visit her beloved nation.

Then, in November 2008, Khabazeh's husband was stabbed to death on the streets of the Mill City. Mazen Alwarad, a clerk at 7-Eleven, was attacked outside the Chelmsford Street store when he provided a stranger with a cigarette and a light. The man, Luis Rodriguez, hurled an ethnic slur at Alwarad and an argument ensued. Rodriguez was sentenced to life in prison for Alwarad's murder. Khabazeh said her husband was just about to come off his late-night shift with about 19 minutes left to go.

The holidays have presented a difficult time for Khabazeh and her children since then. Khabazeh is a single mother now with her 17-year-old daughter, Linda Lutfi, and 8-year-old son, Kenan Alwarad, who was only 3 when his father died. Their sense of loss weighs heavily, but even more so now as they learn of the bloodshed in Syria. The country is in a civil war now in its third year.

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