Syria has lost millions of citizens since the civil war started, but the last known American citizen in Damascus will not leave.
Thomas Webber, 71, has called the capital his home for the past 40 years. He has to check under his car every morning for bombs, but he still considers the war-torn country home.
“The Syrian people are just the most beautiful people in the world,” he told the Associated Press. “There’s no way I’m going to leave this country. They’re going to have to carry me out.”
He still teaches English at a high school where “he shares his love of Charles Dickens with teenagers from the French-speaking Lycee Charles de-Gaulle.”
Webber moved to Syria in 1975 when the Damascus community school, a private American academy, offered him a job teaching science. He converted to “Islam and married a Syrian woman.” He briefly lived in Iran but eagerly returned to Syria.
After the war broke out, the couple began to take “strong precautionary measures” before they left their home, especially since kidnappings of foreigners ran rampant.
“Foreigners were being kidnapped at the time,” he continued. “I guess I don’t look like a Syrian. I’m a little bit taller than most.”
He added: “When I went out by myself I told her where I was going, and same with her. When I’m driving, I am very observant of cars around me. We started doing a lot more things together, which is good for our relationship.”
The U.S. Embassy closed after the war began, but the Czech Embassy took over for American interests. The Czechs have asked Webber to leave for his own safety. Rebels continue to attack buildings in Damascus.
“One hit about 3 meters in front of our door,” he said. “Wiped out seven cars.”
In January, outlets reported five U.S. citizens remained trapped in Madaya where Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad purposely starved its residents. The regime has trapped almost 30,000 people since July 2015. They refuse to allow anyone to bring food or supplies to the residents.
“Right now, my kids are starving from hunger,” said a Syrian-American mother from Pennsylvania. “My baby is 3 years old. All day long, the only words he says are: ‘I’m hungry. I need food.’”
She lives there with her husband and their three children.
“The last food deliveries to reach Madaya were on Oct. 18. With food stocks depleted, starving residents have been forced to eat grass, leaves, and water flavored with spices,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor. “Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said Thursday that 23 people have died of starvation since Dec. 1 at a medical clinic run by the organization, six of them infants under a year old.”