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Local Arabs fear for family back home



Published: Mon, April 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Concerns about family and friends weighed heavily with the standing-room-only crowd.

By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

LIBERTY -- Members of various Christian denominations prayed with area Muslims for peace in the Middle East at the opening of a public forum, but those who spoke afterward had trouble hiding their frustration and anger at the situation.

As fighting rages between the Israelis and Palestinians, many members of the local Arab community expressed concern Sunday night about family members caught in the crossfire and what they view as the U.S. government's slow response to the situation.

A standing-room-only crowd of mostly Arab residents gathered at the Arab Community Center to air their feelings about what is happening to their relatives and friends there. Local Arab leaders had initially planned a vigil for those who have lost family members in the fighting, but they opted for a forum instead so concerned individuals could voice their opinions, said center spokesman Ray Nakley.

Husam Rafeedie, president of the Arab Community Center, spoke haltingly about the devastation over the past several days in the Middle East. He and several others said the United States is already late to respond and too slow in sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the area. Powell is to arrive there this week.

Resident Jabr Elwanni reiterated Rafeedie's feelings about Powell and the U.S. response to the conflict, but he became too emotional to comment on the suffering he says his family has endured in the past few weeks.

U.S. government: University of Akron student Neveen Judeh, 22, an American citizen who was born in Jerusalem, said it is that type of emotion that needs to be brought to the attention of U.S. government officials so more precise action is taken by the United States. Judeh handed out lists of names, numbers and e-mail addresses of government officials she said should be contacted by members of the Arab community.

Judeh said she, too, has lost several family members and is still waiting to hear word on the whereabouts of two uncles who have been missing for days.

She was not the only one to express concern over missing or distraught family members. Virtually everyone attending had a personal story related to the conflict.

Sami Bahour, 62, a local businessman, said he worries daily about his son and grandchildren living in Ramallah. He said a grandson called several days ago unable to understand why he was unable to take a bath. Bahour said the water has been shut off for several days.

Mother visiting: Area resident Maher Ramahi said he is concerned about his mother, a U.S. citizen, who went to visit family in Nablus and has not been heard from in several days. He last spoke with his mother by cell phone four days ago.

Ramahi said he lost a 41-year-old cousin two days ago when he was shot by snipers while taking out the trash.

"We are very worried about my mother. My father, none of us can sleep," he said. "It hurts to see the way our president talks about stop the violence on the Palestinian side, but he forgets the Israeli terrorism -- fair is fair."

Nakley said little can be done in the Youngstown-Warren area to end the conflict, but there is an obligation to do whatever can be done.

jgoodwin@vindy.com




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