Local professor from Syria 'heartbroken' over recent escalation

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A University of Hawaii professor who was born and raised in Syria says she is pleased with the way the U.S. has reacted to recent violent events in the country.

For just about anyone, the images from Syria shock the conscience; dozens of Syrian nationals convulsing on the ground and foaming at the mouth, the result of an apparent chemical weapons attack over an opposition-held area of the country.

It's especially shocking for U.H. Manoa Astronomy Professor Shadia Rifai Habbal, who was born, raised, and educated in the country's capital city of Damascus.

"Syria was a beautiful country. Very peaceful. It's immersed in culture going back thousands of years," she said. "For me, to see the utter destruction of Syria is heartbreaking."

Habbal was last there in 2008, before the war, and still has family who live in Syria. She's previously visited the site where the recent chemical attack happened.

"I think you are just sick to your stomach, to see kids, all ages, but especially children," Habbal said. "They're just suffocating and not knowing what hit them."

The response from the United States -- the country she now considers home -- reassures her that this latest attack won't be ignored.

"In some ways, its comforting to see that a big power, or that one of the strongest nations in the world, has taken a stand against the barbaric events, to show that the world has to do something."

At U.H., Professor Habbal is one of the few in the world -- possibly the only woman -- to study the physics of the sun. But while her focus is on her work, Habbal says her mind wanders every day as to what will happen to the people who live in the country where she grew up.

"I feel extremely sad to see a country that was so beautiful, so peaceful turn into such an arena of carnage," Habbal said. "I would love to see fighting stop in Syria, the bloodshed to stop, people open dialogues and life go back to normalcy."

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