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Local focus placed on Syria tragedy

Dr. Othman Shibly last visited family in Syria in April 2011, when a revolution against dictatorial rule was in its infancy.

"I was so impressed and shocked to see it," said Shibly, a clinical assistant professor of periodontics in the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. "I was surprised and amazed at the Syrian people rising up. They were talking about justice, equal opportunity, reform, freedom of expression -- all the values we struggle for."

But instead of learning from other protests in Tunisia and Egypt by ceding power, Syrian President Bashar Assad has tried to move faster and more forcefully to suppress the uprisings, Shibly said.

"He didn't learn that he should move forward with reform," Shibly said.

What exists now is an escalating humanitarian crisis, born out of violent government repression of people in search of democracy, said Shibly, whose own nephew was recently shot in the head -- most likely by a police sniper.

The teenage boy was leaving school when the bullet grazed him.

"He was so lucky. He could have been killed," said Shibly, who will speak Saturday in the Islamic Center of Niagara Frontier, 745 Heim Road, Getzville, as part of a fundraiser to benefit humanitarian aid for Syria.

Shibly will be joined by Dr. Radwan Ziadeh, a visiting scholar at Harvard University and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights, in discussing the "Syrian Revolution: What It Means for the Syrians, Arabs and the World."

The event runs from 6 to 9 p.m., and donations will go to Life for Relief and Development, a State Department-approved charity, to provide medical supplies and food in Syria, where thousands have been killed in the uprising.

Shibly learned of what happened to his nephew via Facebook. The boy decided not to go to the hospital because there have been many reports of patients being tortured in hospitals, Shibly said.

"The crimes that are happening are beyond imagination and unprecedented," he said. "It reminds me of Rwanda."