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story.lead_photo.caption President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Supporters of an organization that operates a kindergarten and a women's center in the war-torn Syrian province of Idlib are asking Arkansans and President Donald Trump for help.

"We are writing you with profound alarm about the dangerous escalation of violence in Idlib Province," said a letter signed by 32 organizations and religious leaders who support the Wisdom House Project, an underground school in the city of Maaret al-Numan.

Twelve of the 32 are from the Arkansas cities of Conway, Russellville, Hot Springs, Hot Springs Village, Little Rock and North Little Rock. Others are from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Mouaz Moustafa, a former Arkansan, is the task force's executive director.

Natalie Larrison, director of education and outreach for the Syrian Emergency Task Force and project manager for the Wisdom House, said she sent the letter this week to members of the Trump administration and Congress "with the hope it will finally reach" the president.

"On a daily basis, relentless artillery shelling and aerial bombardment shake the foundations of our School for Orphans," the letter says. "White phosphorus illuminates the sky over our Women's Center before wreaking havoc and terror elsewhere. Our fear is that this is the beginning of another attempt to mount a final and massive military offensive against Idlib that will result in untold humanitarian atrocities and deaths, as well as create millions of more refugees in Turkey and Europe."

Larrison said Idlib, which lies in northwestern Syria, has been "under a massive offensive" by the regime of Bashar Assad as well as Iranian and Russian forces.

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Letter to Trump from group working to aid Syria's civilian population

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"Each day hospitals and schools are being targeted, leaving massacres behind," she said. "Our beneficiaries on the ground are terrified and are located within a few kilometers of the front lines."

In Little Rock, where Larrison is based, the task force is asking for volunteers to help today with the repackaging of medical kits to send to Idlib and to sort through "letters of hope" the organization has received to share with Syrian children. Volunteers are to gather between 10 a.m. and noon at 3600 Cantrell Road, Suite 205.

The Wisdom House's third class of about 130 kindergartners recently graduated, but a "community graduation celebration for the kids was cancelled due to the nearby bombing," Larrison said.

The school, whose students often have lost one or more parents in the war, and the women's center "are within 10 miles of the front lines, and so far, the Turkish base that separates them has not abandoned post," she said.

The women's center had to close temporarily Thursday after managing to have classes Wednesday "despite the bombardment around them," she said. "They expect many families to evacuate the town in the coming days to heard north closer to the Turkish border."

The women's center offers classes for women, men and children. Courses include cosmetology, nursing, jewelry-making, Arabic, English and computer science.

"We have seen hundreds of graduates come out of the Women's Center and at one given time, I would estimate around [40 to 50] students," Larrison said.

Wisdom House supporters signing on to the letter to the president wanted it to be nonpolitical in their quest to protect Idlib civilians, Larrison said.

"Our schools, bakeries, and friends in Idlib are a small percentage of the over three million civilians suffering under daily bombardment," the letter says. "Over one million children, including the orphans we have been supporting, live there."

It adds: "We believe the louder and clearer your Administration is in calling for an end to ongoing bombardment of civilians, the more people we may be able to save. We implore you to continue to privately and publicly address the mounting crisis in Syria."

State Desk on 05/11/2019

Print Headline: Letter asks for Trump, Arkansans to help Syria

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