The last American known to be living in Damascus says he feels safer in Syria's capital than in the U.S. because of American gun violence.
Thomas Webber, 71, grew up outside Buffalo, New York, but moved to Syria in 1975 when he was offered a teaching position at an American school there. He's lived in the country ever since.
Many American expats left Syria as civil war broke out in 2011, but Webber has no plans to leave. "I have the choice of any country, including America, and I choose to stay here," Webber told The Associated Press earlier this month. "It's part of my heart now."
In an interview with BBC on Thursday, Webber said the cease-fire agreement between world powers that went into effect last month has increased stability in the region to the point that he actually feels more secure in Syria than he would in the United States.
"Since the cease-fire, I feel safer, believe it or not. I feel safer in Damascus than I do in any American city," Webber said. "In Damascus, I know who has the guns. In America, everybody has a gun. And in America, you have these very strange people firing on a school, on a cinema, [on the] streets of every major city in America. It's really a shame."
Listen to Webber's interview with the BBC above.
American gun violence has killed thousands, but the Syrian civil war is still more deadly. According to the Gun Violence Archive, firearms killed about 13,398 people in the U.S. in 2015. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, estimates 20,977 civilians were killed in Syria's civil war last year.
Webber is not naive about the realities of Syria's violent conflict, which has left close to half a million dead and prompted millions of Syrians to flee the country and seek refuge elsewhere.
"We've had our fair share of rockets and mortar shells coming in," Webber said. "I've had two neighbors that have passed away -- shrapnel from a rocket fire that hit a rooftop."
Webber is optimistic that the ongoing peace negotiations in Geneva will ultimately succeed.
"The Syrian people are tired right now, they're very tired, five years of civil war," he said. "I feel we're going to have a very long-lasting peace coming in a very, very short period of time."