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Monday, March 11, 2013

Exploiting the Occupied Golan Heights.

Syrian-American Organizations are outraged by recent reports that Israel has awarded the first energy exploration license in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights to a local subsidiary of the U.S. based Genie Energy Corp.

It is disgraceful that as tens of thousands of Syrians are slaughtered and many more injured, tortured, or imprisoned due to the brutal response of Bashar al-Assad’s regime to demands freedom, Israel would take this opportunity to steal from the Syrian people.

Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967, and its annexation of the land in 1981 was unrecognized and condemned internationally. Plundering the oil/gas resources of the Golan Heights violates the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, which makes it clear that exploiting resources from occupied territory is prohibited.

This move by the Israeli government is the first time it has attempted to explore for oil/gas resources
in the Golan Heights, but it is not the first violation of international law when it comes to its actions in the territory. More than 20,000 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights illegally. In addition, Israeli settlements and companies have exploited the land’s water resources for decades, and many Israeli-labeled wines are from grapes harvested and in bottles made in illegal Golan Heights settlements.

The US, and other governments that provide military aid and diplomatic protection to Israel must condemn these ongoing violations of international law. Companies that profit exploiting Syrian resources must be held accountable through boycott and divestment efforts.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Eighteen Months Later. Understand the Formula to a Solution in Syria.

Contributed by Sarab Al-Jijakli. Originally published on September 17th, 2012 at

Eighteen months into the revolution, many still look to international powers to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict in Syria. These people however, fail to realize there is only one way forward, and it is not grounded in securing Iranian, Russian or, for that matter, the West’s diplomatic approvals.

Rather, the resolution lies in supporting the Syrian people who started and maintain this revolution – this is the only way to accelerate the demise of the Assad regime and to ensure an end to the slaughter.

The way forward is grounded in a simple formula to ensure a “Syrian-centric” outcome:

Civil Resistance + Free Syrian Army (FSA) + Outside Support


Fall of the Assad Regime

In other words, mass mobilization, grass roots militarization and real external support for the resistance will ensure the fall of Assad.

This is a revolution after all – a sustained uprising over 18 months by masses of Syrians, from every walk of life, every corner of the country with the collective aim of overthrowing a family mafia that has ruled for over 40 years.

So, what are the three variables in this formula? While books will be written to appropriately delve into the complexities of each, below is a starting place to begin to understand them.

1) Civil Resistance.

Civil resistance is the heart and soul of the revolution. For roughly the first six months of the uprising, the popular response to the Assad regime manifested itself almost exclusively through public protest, acts of civil disobedience, and strikes aimed at disrupting the state’s ability to rule. The ‘organizing engine’ of these efforts is driven by Local Coordinating Committees (LCCs) – networks of grassroots activists who connect across villages, towns and cities.

The regime had spent decades deconstructing independent civil society institutions to ensure that any resistance would be fragmented. Additionally, through a media blackout, it controlled discourse and narrative throughout the country. The LCCs, as a decentralized network, broke the regime monopoly on organized structures and, just as importantly, ensured that every aspect of this revolution is independently documented (as many have said: “No YouTube, it didn’t happen”).

Many of the grass-roots activists are unknown to the international community giving the false impression that this is a leaderless revolution. This supposed facelessness has been driven by security needs (activists have been mercilessly hunted by the regime), but also by the need to contrast the ‘cult of personality’ that has shaped Syria’s political history under the Assad family rule. Additionally, in a truly democratic manner, many of these local networks rotate leadership every few months to ensure collective representation and shared ownership over the direction of their locale.

The work of the LCCs and grass roots activists has been overshadowed recently by the evolution of the militarized resistance (i.e. Free Syrian Army (FSA)). However, they are core to the revolution and often partner with the FSA to fill the vacuum left behind by the receding state (e.g., services, relief efforts) while still coordinating popular protests (for example, LCCs documented 390 protest points this past Friday).

The revolution is awakening all aspects of society and thrusting Syrians into leadership roles that only a year and half ago would have been unimaginable. The LCCs have been at the forefront to redefine the connection between the people of Syria and the future of the country – creating mechanisms where ordinary Syrians can, for the first time, contribute to the development of a new country that represents them, not a family-run colony.

2) The Free Syrian Army.
While initially made up of defectors from the mass conscript army, the ranks of the militarized resistance (mostly under the umbrella banner of the FSA) are now filled with ordinary Syrians who see an armed response as the means to defend their neighborhoods and accelerate the demise of the regime.

The overwhelming majority of militarized elements of the revolution are homegrown – ordinary Syrians who have picked up arms to resist the regime. This is not to say there are no “foreign fighters” who have entered the country, however it is important to note that not all foreign fighters are problematic – some truly support the revolution, while others may have a separate agenda and will be marginalized by revolutionary forces. Regardless, their numbers are tiny in comparison to the 70,000-100,000 FSA fighters.

The FSA is by no means one organization. They are rather a collective of provincial Military Councils (MCs) and local brigades who have, in essence adopted the ‘franchise’ name. While the MCs are symbolically connected to FSA officers in Turkey, they operate through local, provincial and regional coordination (not through a tops-down hierarchy driven by officers in exile).

With the growth of the FSA, its operations have shifted from purely defensive (i.e., protecting protestors and villages, etc.) to bringing the battle to Assad’s doorstep. Operation ‘Damascus Volcano’ in mid-July 2012 stunned the regime and even supporters of the FSA with their ability to: 1) target top leaders of the regime’s crises cell; and 2) showcase more cohesion and tactical command by targeting multiple sensitive spots around the capital. Followed by the battle for Aleppo and the creation of ‘Free’ zones in the Idleb province, the FSA is trying to split the country in two, thus solidifying its gains, and isolating Assad in Damascus.

As Assad has utilized his air force to suppress the FSA’s advance, there are continuous FSA attacks on air force bases in an attempt to ground Assad’s jets and helicopters and neutralize this tactical advantage.

An important development is the ability of the FSA, as a loose umbrella of groups to strive to ‘self-correct’. An example of this is the code of conduct signed last month in response to human rights violations against captured Assad regime forces. Additionally, there are efforts underway to expose fringe groups who are using the security vacuum in the country & impersonating the FSA to conduct criminal actions (looting, kidnapping for ransom etc.). It will be critical moving forward for the FSA to make serious progress on these matters in order to maintain popular support and to gain more international support.

As time passes, the FSA is also structurally evolving to solidify command control, coordination across MCs and supply routes. It remains to be seen whether current efforts to transform the FSA into the Syrian National Army under a more unified command will bear fruit immediately. However, the FSA’s development into a national military institution is slowly becoming reality.

The LCCs and FSA are two sides of the resistance coin – both organic and uniquely Syrian, both essential to success of the revolution. The ‘code of conduct’ announced last month is a clear example of groups working together. There is even a joint campaign underway to focus on the principles and goals of the revolution, with support from dozens of committees and battalions.

Most importantly, in towns and villages liberated from the regime, there is close collaboration to run the municipal duties and provide security resulting in effective ‘self-rule.’

3) Outside Support.

The international community has a critical role to counter the heavy military, financial and diplomatic support provided by Iran and Russia – both who have a trusted, decades-long relationship with the Assad regime.

Sadly however, while Iran and Russia have done everything possible to prop up the Assad regime against the uprising, the “West” and so-called “Friends of Syria” have been slow to or even unwilling to support the revolution.

The Russians have been steadfast in their support for Assad, from sending military ships, to blocking UNSC resolutions condemning regime crimes, all in an attempt to maintain Russian prominence on the international political scene. A famous protest sign from Kafranbel, Idleb, sums up the revolutionary response to this: “You are betting on the Wrong horse; nothing will save your Assad from being beheaded”.

On the Iranian side, a commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard admitted last May that his nation’s special forces were on the ground (something all Syrians knew before the revolution even began). Ensuring that the Assad regime dominates Syria is obviously core to Iran’s regional interests, and there is evidence that Iranian drones are in use over Syria, along with the acceleration of Iranian military aid as the Assad regime becomes more untenable.

While the United States, Europe and Gulf states have been very forthcoming over the past year in providing condemnations, their actions have had very little bite. We all remember US Secretary of State Clinton suggesting Assad was a different leader” (in other words ‘a reformer’) and it took Obama until Mid-August 2011 – after more than 5 months of slaughter to finally call on Assad to step down. The US position can be summed up as follows: delayed reaction, economic sanctions, limited (mostly verbal) support for external political opposition and some non-lethal aid.

Despite all the buzz in the media about the US, EU and Gulf countries ‘arming and aiding the rebels’, the FSA denies receiving any substantial support and weapons are still received through traditional smuggling routes and from the regime directly.

Once recent Friday ‘day of protest’ in Syria was even titled, “Arm the FSA with anti-aircraft Weapons” in a plea to the outside world to provide the military tools for Syrians to combat the Assad onslaught. Despite such calls, evidence is mounting that the US is blocking access to the necessary weapons – even communication aid promised months ago to activists is ‘not forthcoming. The French, another vocal ‘supporter’ of the revolution has also made it clear they “do not intend, neither today nor tomorrow, to send weapons to the Syrian opposition.”

Emboldened by this apparent lack of military support for the revolution, the regime is relying more on air power to collectively punish the population and is even dropping leaflets highlighting how the resistance is alone in the world. While some estimates suggest the revolution holds seventy percent of the ground, Assad controls the skies without impunity; the lack of heavy weapons is delaying the inevitable outcome of this revolution.

While Syrian expatriate activities are not the focus of this piece, it is also important to note that many in the Syrian expatriate community (numbering well over 10 million) have mobilized to support the revolution. Millions of dollars in humanitarian aid have been raised, and political umbrella groups (i.e., external-based opposition groups such as the Syrian National Council) are working (not always successfully or effectively) to push the revolutions agenda. More recently, in the US, a group (the Syrian Support Group) has formed to legally raise money for the FSA. Additionally, a collective of Syrians from the internal resistance and external opposition have met over the past 6 months in Germany to create the Day After Project – an important set of recommendations for a post-Assad Syria transition, “… written by Syrians, and…owned by Syrians.

Not in the Formula

Most Syrians involved in the revolution have rejected calls for dialogue. Given the regime’s record of insincerity in this regard, any such efforts are perceived as a way to maintain the regime’s grip on the nation and to undercut the popular demands for genuine change. Too many Syrians have seen first hand the brutality of this regime’s “reforms” in action. Since March 15, 2011, more than 30,000 Syrians have been murdered (most believe the number is much higher), hundreds of thousands detained and/or missing, and 2 million displaced.

Additionally, UN efforts have proven impotent – the most recent example being the pathetic meeting a few weeks ago of the United Nation’s Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria. There is also little confidence that new international peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi will succeed in his mission. As I wrote months ago, “the diplomatic scurrying, posturing and theater creates the illusion that anything meaningful could come out of the diplomatic process – in essence attempting to push the revolutionary aspirations to the side to wait for the outcome.”

Some commentators have even suggested bringing Iran and Russia to the negotiation table to ensure their “interests” in the country are secured. There could not be a more perverse and insulting suggestion made to the millions of Syrians who are suffering at the hands of the regime. Not only does it discount the fact that both nations have been crucial in propping up the Assad regime since the start of the revolution, but it also shows a true disconnect with the desires, aspirations and growing strength of the Syrian revolution.

Moving Forward

Ultimately, the revolution will succeed; it is just a matter of time and how much blood Assad is allowed to spill. The regime strategy is clear – grounded in killing and collective punishment, they understand it is an all or nothing struggle and a war of attrition against the population.

The Syrian people are heroically doing all they can to overthrow this mafia regime. They have shown the world true sacrifice, resilience and persistence to achieve the goals of establishing a nation grounded on pluralism and dignity – after all, Syrian martyrs, in the tens of thousands, will not be allowed to die in vain. It is also clear, as witnessed throughout liberated towns and villages across Syria, that the sooner Assad is removed the sooner order can be restored.

The real question is not whether the revolution will succeed, but rather how long and at what human cost. Sadly, the third variable in the formula, Outside Support, has been morally deficient through their inaction and even criminally negligent by blocking much needed support. Syrians, and, one day, the world at large, will not forget who came to the aid of Syrians in their time of need, and who stood by to watch them suffer.

The way forward and the formula to end the slaughter is clear – support the revolution.

Sarab Al-Jijakli is a long-time activist within the Arab-American community and a founding member of The National Alliance for Syria. Contact him at @sarabny

Friday, August 10, 2012

Father Paolo of Syria, in NYC RECAP

Father Paolo concluded his 2-week North America tour with a short stay in NYC where the National Alliance for Syria had the honor & opportunity to host (along with friends) and coordinate his activities.

His whirl-wind schedule included community outreach events aimed at bringing the Syrian and Arab community together on the issue of Syria, a Press conference in front of the UN, and multiple events/ meetings with International diplomacy "Influencers" and Interfaith circles.

Here is a quick recap of images, video and media coverage his short stay in the area:

Interfaith Gathering at Salam Arabic Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, NYC. Sunday August 5.
An important event that brought together Syrian Muslims and Christians, along with friends from the broader Arab community to discuss the future of Syria.

Press Conference at the UN Millennium Hotel to International Press. Monday August 6.
Cosponsored by National Alliance for Syria, Syrian Expatriates Organization & Syrian Americans for Democracy.

Event Hosted by the International Peace Institute, Monday August 6.
Understanding the Syrian Puzzle: A Conversation with Father Paolo Dall’Oglio

“In Syria, where he lived since the early 1980s, Father Paolo led the restoration of a 1,000 year old Byzantine monastery—known as the Mar Musa monastery—that stands today as a spiritual and physical meeting point between Muslims and Christians.  Father Paolo was expelled by the Syrian government in June 2012 for supporting pro-democracy protestors in the country, including by addressing in May 2012 an open letter to Kofi Annan, the then UN-Arab League Special Envoy for the Syrian crisis, calling for greater international involvement.” Read more at IPI website.

Media Highlights: 

Out of Syria: An Expelled Italian Priest Calls for Peace and Reconciliation

“The Christians are a minority in Syria [for] centuries, so they have a minority attitude. It’s to be protected by the power,” says Dall’Oglio, gesturing to the historically close ties between Syria’s Christian grandees and the Assad regime. However, Dall’Oglio insists that the majority of Christians within the country are against the regime. “It is very clear that the opposition is not sectarian. Christians have been jailed, Alawites have been jailed, Jewish people have been jailed, Kurdish people have been jailed, obviously Muslims, Sunni and Shiites [too],” Dall’Oglio says. 

Expelled Jesuit Priest Calls for UN Peacekeepers in Syria.

“We need now U.N. forces - not U.N. permission for Western forces, but real U.N. forces - coming to separate the civilians that are fighting each other," said Dall’Oglio. "And the presence of the United Nations forces on the ground at the falling of the [Bashar al-Assad] regime will help the Syrian people to have a deal of negotiation, to have a constitution that will warranty rights for all the components of this nation.” Read more at VOA.

Jesuit Priest Exiled From Syria Says Assad’s 'Puppet State' Will Soon Fall. 

"It's very strong in my mind," said Dall'Oglio of the ceremony at Deir Mur Musa. "There were ladies dressed in black, Alawites, Christians and Muslim Sunnis crying together for their friend in one group. It's such an important image of the real, deep Syria." Read more at IBTimes.

"For now, I consider myself homeless, until I go back, and this will be soon, inshallah," he said, using the Arabic for "God willing." "And I will go back to my responsibilities. My aim now is the harmony of these people, for a friendly Syria."

Interview with Father Paolo Dall'Oglio on the Syrian Crisis.

“Syria is paying a high price for these tensions that have paralyzed the action of the United Nations that should have protected the Syrians from the wild repression of the pacific revolution of the Syrians. From the first day, the repression was of absolutely non-proportioned and immediately violent. The use of terror and torture has been systematic. The jailing of innocent people has been absolutely universal. And it’s not astonishing that soldiers that have been ordered to fight and to use their weapons against their own people just went away to create a free army to defend the revolution.” Read more at Global Observatory.

NYC Press Conference by UN.

“Reverend Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian Jesuit Priest who spent 30 years in Syria as a champion of interfaith dialogue spoke in NYC on Monday about the realities on the ground in Syria, the role of Christians and other minorities groups, and the expectations of a post-Assad future in Syria.” See Video at FirstPost.
SEO Thanks Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, The Italian Priest Expelled by the Assad Regime, For His Support of the Revolution and Message of Unity and Reconciliation Within a Post-Assad Syria.

“SEO expresses their gratitude to Father Paolo for sharing his insight on the realities on the ground in Syria, the role of minorities in the revolution and strategies to ensure national reconciliation after the fall of the Assad regime. SEO shares father Paolo’s vision on the reconciliation in Syria based on unity of “One Syria” and justice for the victims of Assad crimes, which relies mainly on the complete ouster of Assad regime, including the systems of security forces, and the death squads, who will be held accountable for their crimes.” Read more at PRWEB.

Will Syria have any Christians left? Assad exiles Syrian Catholic priest for joining the revolution.
“People will never go back to the dictatorship of Bashar,” he insists. “We want to have a Syria that can be fully democratic, a change from the past, a modern state. We cannot accept Assad anymore. For this, our people are dying.” "Dall’Oglio himself recently left Syria—but not by choice. An Italian-born Jesuit priest who arrived in Damascus three decades ago, Father Paolo was expelled from Syria in June after openly criticizing the Assad government. He says he supported the revolution from the beginning. Read more at Latitude News. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Father Paolo Dall'Oglio Press Conference by the UN

Reverend Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian Jesuit Priest who spent 30 years in Syria as a champion of interfaith dialogue spoke in NYC across the street from United Nations on Monday August 6th, about the realities on the ground in Syria, the role of Christians and other minorities groups, and the expectations of a post-Assad future in Syria. 

Moderated by Sarab Al-Jijakli (@sarabny) the press conference was sponsored by the National Alliance for Syria, Syrian Expatriates Organization and Syrian Americans for Democracy.

For more perspective from Father Paolo, please also read his statement from NYC, on the occasion of his visit to the United Nations.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Is there reconciliation left in Syria today? A Statement from Father Paolo.

Statement from Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, in NYC on Monday, August 6, on the occasion of his visit to the United Nations.

Is there reconciliation left in Syria today?

Father Paolo at Press Conference in NYC
Father Paolo at press conference in NYC
The answer is, quite clearly yes - however all of us Syrians must work in our hearts to keep reconciliation as the aim of our action, knowing there is no possible reconciliation without the pursuit of a pluralist democracy, and respect for human rights. These are the platforms on which future harmony will exist, through recognizing each other’s values.

Some of the Syrian people fighting for revolution have stayed consistently non-violent in their resistance over the past 17 months and have paid a high price for their faithfulness. They must keep their non-violent commitment in order to facilitate reconciliation in the country during the process of collapse and after the fall of the Bashar al-Assad regime. 

Reconciliation is also part of the commitment of the Free Syrian Army, who have clearly and officially advocated for restraint against actions that undermine human rights, even for actions that may target enemies who have acted against the human dignity of the Syrian people during the past 40 years, especially over the past terrible months and will face fair trials for their crimes. The free Syrian soldiers who commit to this pledge and are respecting human dignity in all conditions are the heroes fighting for the honor of an entire people, an entire country and of all humanity.

There is no contradiction between the actions of the Free Syrian Army, those of the Syrian revolutionary parties who are against the use of weapons and the positions of pacifist activists. All of them will become actors within the coming pluralist democracy, which will need the participation of all faithful and sincere citizens.

It is evident that this deep attitude of reconciliation is difficult and painful, especially for those who are directly victims of violence. Justice however will need to be re-established through internationally guaranteed fair trial and not through personal revenge. Everybody is aware that some mistakes are happening and crimes should be punished regardless of who perpetuated them. Of course, in the coming free Syria we will also need to rehabilitate those who have fallen into the practice of using indiscriminate violence to achieve their goals.

Regarding the role of minorities in a future Syria - the country is a nation of minorities, and all people regardless of faith, ethnicity or ideology are crucial to building a new Syria. We must also leave behind any collective guilt or place responsibility for the crimes of this regime on any one group, as the criminals and victims over the past 40 years cuts across all ethnic and religious groupings.

Women and men of a free Syria, both inside and outside the country, will need to promote "Syrian to Syrian" dialogue for reconciliation. The "one Syria" we are all fighting for will be a homeland for all of us regardless of our religious, ethnic or ideological belonging. Unity in harmony is our goal which will shape a project of justice and peace for the Arab nation and the Middle East region altogether.

As we stand in New York City, we ask the UN to work side by side with the Syrian people in the fight for freedom and harmony. UN soldiers from non-aligned nations should assume direct responsibility to protect the endangered civilians in those parts of the country where massacres are occurring and where inter-communal conflict is growing. UN forces are needed today on the ground, together with international unarmed peace promoters, to separate those Syrians being pushed by regional enemies to kill one another.

This approach will empower the Syrian people and allow them to rebuild the unity of Syria throughout negotiations and international warranties for all the components of this great civilization - a nation that must be preserved for the good of the world. 

May Allah have mercy on all of us, so we can show mercy to one another!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Activist Asylum Victory

We wanted to share with you the wonderful news of an asylum victory of a young Syrian activist that came to National Alliance for Syria (NAFS) for legal support upon his arrival to the US.

NAFS connected him with our legal team, who took on his asylum case. Tarek* (name has been changed to protect client’s privacy) is an inspiring 22-year-old Syrian activist who came to the United States only months ago from his native city of Homs.

Being in the epicenter of the revolution, Homs, Tarek took to the streets to protest the atrocities of the Syrian regime’s crackdown against opposition activists, which has claimed the lives of more than 15,000 Syrians, including women and children, since March 2011. At the first protest he attended, Tarek was shot in the chest by security forces with a rubber bullet. Because the regime targets wounded protesters at hospitals, Tarek was forced to seek treatment at a secret medical clinic in a family home to have the bullet removed without anesthetic. Tarek continued to protest bravely while watching his neighborhood friends being detained and killed one by one insisting that his life was no more valuable than theirs.

When his family learned that he was wanted by the Syrian intelligence, Tarek fled and came to the United States. He was forced to leave his parents and sister behind. After he left, security forces came to his parent’s home searching for him. Although he was fortunate enough to escape, there are sadly thousands upon thousands of Syrians that have suffered a different fate.

We learned last week that Tarek will now be permitted to remain safely in the United States as an asylee and has begun his path toward permanent residence in this country. Working with Tarek has been a humbling experience and we could not be happier for the approval of his case.

If you know anyone that needs immigration guidance or support, please contact us for a free legal consultation.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why Demand Columbia University Rescind the Acceptance of an Assad Aide?

Assad aide Shehrezad 'Sherry' Jaafari

We are all outraged that a media adviser to Bashar al-Assad has been accepted into Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs (SIPA).

There is something terribly wrong, when an individual who has been advising Assad on how to ‘spin’ and cover up massacres by the regime is rewarded for their ‘experience’ and accepted into one of the prestigious educational institutions in America.

To make matters worse, through a referral/ recommendation from Barbara Walters for helping her setup the now infamous Assad interview back in December 2011.

If you are a Columbia student or alumni, please mention your affiliation in the petition. And also contact the administration directly - they want to hear from you!

This is a human issue – people of conscious, regardless of background are all taking part in this effort.

This is not about personally attacking a 22 year old ‘student’. Rather this is a political issue where one of Assad’s close aides, has the opportunity to personally benefit (per her own statement) from her experience in advising a dictator on how to cover up massacres.

Additionally, another major concern is the informer role she can play at Columbia, informing on fellow Syrian students who are pro-revolution, risking their safety and the safety of loved ones back in Syria who are at risk (Assad regime spying on Syrians in the US is a major issue).

Many have mentioned that the unscrupulous characters connected to dictatorships have always been accepted to US universities – This is not acceptable in a post-"Arab Spring" world. There was a status quo before March 15 2011, before Mohamad Bouazizi self-immolation in December 2010, were this behavior may have acceptable. Not anymore – we cannot reward those who have an active role in assisting the regimes to cover up their tracks.

Finally, if Columbia University is interested in helping Syrian students, there are many languishing here, who cannot afford to pay tuition, and can’t go home due to the regime onslaught.

Please sign the petition and share!

Thank you,

National Alliance for Syria 

Recent news coverage on the issue:

Petition Link: