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Assad Supporters Cheer Obama's Decision To Wait For Syria Strike


In Syria and its neighboring countries, President Obama's decision sparked celebrations amongst supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Beirut, the reaction was one of dismay among the outgunned rebel forces seeking Assad's ouster.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Sunday evening provided more than one surprise for Syrians watching what looked like the build-up to an inevitable act of war. The first surprise was that Syrian state television, possibly expecting a thundering call for the use of force was actually airing the American president's remarks live, with real-time Arabic translation.

The second surprise was that Obama would wait for a vote in Congress. The state TV anchor quickly turned the post-speech coverage into a victory celebration.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: After declaring that the Syrian people had given the world a lesson in steadfastness, the anchor segued to street commentary by Assad supporters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Syria is ready to defeat this aggression whenever it happens, said one man.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Two women added, we're used to these threats, we're not afraid of them. We don't care what they say. A second man said, the American's can't do anything. The last president tried and now this one failed too.


KENYON: As the state broadcaster reverted to nationalist songs and video montages of the Syrian army in action, opposition figures were left to absorb yet another disappointment. Secretary of State John Kerry made what was described as a call of reassurance to the head of the opposition coalition, Ahmed al-Jarba, that the White House still intends to respond to the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons.

For years the coalition has struggled to convince Syrians that it can bring international resources and might to the task of battling the Assad government, and it has repeatedly been disappointed.

In Ghouta, the Damascus suburb, where the U.S. says more than 1400 people were gassed to death by the military, an activist using the name Maamoun says there was a deep sense of deflation when the president said his decision to strike Syria could come in a week or a month.

Maamoun says it was as if he was telling the regime you have another month to kill.

MAAMOUN: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Before the speech, there was some hope among both the rebel fighters and ordinary people, he said, maybe a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. But after the speech, nothing but despair; especially after the British vote not to take part, all our hopes were on the Americans.

MAAMOUN: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: With every statement from the West, Maamoun added, they are more sure than ever that they are alone.

As the debate goes on, protesters in Turkey and Jordan demonstrated against military action. And Jordan's information minister said diplomatic options must be exhausted before any intervention.

Israeli commentators focused on the signal of weakness being sent to the region. One headline read: Obama Shows Netanyahu that Israel is Truly Alone. In Cairo, Arab League foreign ministers gathered to discuss Syria. But as recently as Friday, Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby said the league believes the U.N. Security Council should take a position first.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.


GOODWYN: Coming up, Rachel Martin's interview with Jill Biden and her views on


GOODWYN: Listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.