Members of Chicago's Syrian-American community gathered Sunday under a sweltering sun, calling for President Barack Obama to lead the ouster of the Middle Eastern country's ruler, President Bashar Assad.
In Syria, more than 100 people, including women and children, lay dead in the Syrian town of Houla, the latest victims of Assad's violent rule, according to United Nations observers.
More than a year after regimes were toppled during the Arab Spring uprisings — some with U.S. support — many in Chicago's Syrian-American community said they feel their cause has been forgotten.
"Their town has been killed. The world remains silent," Ammar Sunbulli, 22, said of the massacre that occurred near the larger city of Homs, where he has family. Sunbulli was one of about 70 protesters in downtown Chicago.
For Sunbulli and other Syrian-American activists, news of the massacre has reinvigorated their push for U.S. intervention. The activists have protested Assad's crackdown on the rebellion for months, but they hope the recent days' grim news will lend more support to their cause.
Sunbulli, who was born in the U.S. and lives in Chicago, said he has lost a family member and a friend since the uprising began in March 2011. The relative was shot and killed by a sniper after making a call for blood donations from a mosque's minaret tower, he said.
Then, in October, a friend was shot and killed at a protest. A sniper took aim and pulled the trigger as his friend, who died of his injuries a month later, chanted the Arabic word for freedom, Sunbulli said.
Before the uprising, Sunbulli said he visited the country often. Now he's unsure when he will be able to return and worries about his family. "If you walk outside, you may never come back again," he said.
Using a bullhorn, he led the assembled crowd to chant: "Free, free Syria! Act, act, USA!"
A protester held a sign that said: "In Syria when you ask for liberty, you get death."
On Saturday, U.N. observers announced the discovery of at least 100 blood-smeared bodies in Houla. Follow-up reports Sunday indicate that as many as 49 children were among them. Many were shot in the head or their throats were slit. Violence continued Sunday when at least 30 more people were killed as Syrian forces shelled the town of Hama, just north of Homs, which has served as a home to rebels.
The Syrian government denies responsibility for the massacre, which authorities have instead blamed on "terrorists." But graphic photos and grisly videos uploaded to the Internet depict a different reality, activists said.
"The government must take stronger action than just words and lip service," protester Sana Shukairy said. "The videos are on YouTube, the evidence (of war crimes) is there and the world is just watching."
If nothing is done, the U.S. risks allowing "another Bosnia" to occur, she said, alluding to mass killing in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s.