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Author and Activist Elie Wiesel: Syria Is ‘a Bloody Center of History’

Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem prepares to address the Friends of Syria Conference in Tunis, Tunisia, on Friday. Photo by Jason Reed/AFP/Getty Images.

As Western and Arab leaders met in Tunisia on Friday to discuss how to handle the Syrian regime’s violent crackdown on protesters, the NewsHour spoke to Nobel Peace Prize winner, writer and human rights activist Elie Wiesel about his thoughts on Syria.

Rather than going to war, “clear and strong words” are needed to force out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Wiesel, who is also a Holocaust survivor. “If I were a secretary of defense I might have a different answer for you. But I do know that words have power.”

The violent government crackdown in Syria has lasted nearly a year and has already resulted in thousands of deaths.

If Assad knows that it is a priority in Germany, Britain and the United States to stop him from continuing the violence, and if he knows that “there will be consequences, then he will understand,” Wiesel said.

Because Assad is committing crimes against humanity, this has become the world’s problem, Wiesel continued. “It’s our problem in that way – especially us who know the benefits from freedom of speech and a democratic way of life. This is our responsibility.

“I think we should say, ‘If you don’t step down, consequences will follow’. Ideally we should not go to war,” he continued. “Bloodshed should stop, No. 1. These are all civilians, men, women and children that have been killed. The violence needs to stop.

“Today [Syria] became a bloody center of history. When we think of what is wrong with the world, the first thing that comes to mind is Syria.”

On Friday’s NewsHour, we’ll have more about the meeting in Tunisia on Syria and about what the United States should do with Princeton University professor Anne Marie Slaughter; Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations; and Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch.

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