Raed Saleh woke up in his Manhattan hotel room at 8 a.m. on Tuesday to news of airstrikes at home in Syria.
His colleagues with the Syria Civil Defense sent him an email to say they had spent five hours digging out the dead from debris in Kafer Darian, a village near the Turkish border. Eight people were killed, they wrote, and among the casualties were three children asleep at home. The village, they said, had been held until late last year by militants from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, but it had been taken over by the Free Syrian Army. Mr. Saleh said he was unaware of what targets the Americans might have sought there.
Mr. Saleh, 30, who once made a living buying and selling electronic goods — “all made in China,” he said — became a search-and-rescue worker after the civil war in Syria began and bombs began to flatten entire neighborhoods. He had landed in New York the day before with his colleague, a onetime banker named Farouq al Habib. Their goal was to press diplomats to aid their cause to help civilians in areas controlled by rebels seeking to oust the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
But what a strange day it was to be. The sun in New York was bright. The streets around the United Nations were crawling with police officers and firefighters. News came streaming in on their cellphones.
They said they wanted to turn around and go home. There could be more airstrikes by the United States and its allies. There would be more bodies to be pulled out of the rubble. That is where they would be needed.
Syria Civil Defense, made up of 1,100 volunteers, is supported by the United States government. But on Tuesday morning, Mr. Saleh and Mr. Al Habib were not feeling very charitable toward the Americans.
Why, they asked, had the United States and its Arab allies not hit Syrian regime targets? Why go only after ISIS and the Qaeda-linked militant group Khorasan, they wanted to know.
“Now it’s as if everyone in the international community wants to continue the suffering of the Syrian people,” Mr. Saleh said.
Mr. Al Habib said he had hoped for United States intervention against the forces of Mr. Assad three years ago. He expected the airstrikes now to have no effect on what he called the terrorist problem in Syria.
“The Americans do not ask us or expect us to have faith in them,” Mr. Al Habib, 33, said dryly. He needed a smoke.
The Crossroads of Special Operations