Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria on Sunday derided President Barack Obama’s decision to hold off on punitive military strikes.
In a sharply worded front-page article, the state-run newspaper Al-Thawra, expressing official thinking, said Obama’s turn-about on military action was “the start of the historic American retreat.”
“The hesitation and the disappointment is so obvious in the words of President Obama yesterday,” Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faysal Mikdad, told reporters Sunday in Damascus. “The confusion was clear as well.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad tried to project confidence in his escalating showdown with the U.S., saying in comments carried by state media Sunday that Syria is “capable of confronting any external aggression.”
Mikdad added that Obama stepped back from his threat to attack because he lacks evidence of Syrian government involvement in the Aug. 21 attacks.
The Obama administration, however, insists its case for military action against Assad’s regime is getting stronger, saying it now has evidence that the toxic gas allegedly used in strikes on rebel-held areas was the nerve agent Sarin.
The administration predicted Sunday it will obtain congressional backing for limited strikes. After days of edging closer to military action against Syria, Obama suddenly announced Saturday he would first seek approval from Congress, which gets back from summer break Sept. 9.
From the sidelines, others exhorted the U.S. either to get involved or stay out of the brutal two-and-a-half-year-old conflict that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
The main Syrian political opposition, which operates largely from exile, warned that Obama would give dictators in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere a free pass to commit atrocities if he does not punish Assad.
In the Syrian capital Damascus, some said the reprieve from Washington was only prolonging their torment.
“I know people who prepared sleeping pills to give to their kids the night of the attack so they can sleep and not be scared,” said a 29-year-old man, who only gave his first name, Nasib, for fear of reprisals.
Despite Syria’s tough talk, it’s reportedly taking precautions.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the army moved troops as well as rocket launchers, artillery and other heavy weapons inside residential neighborhoods in cities nationwide. The coalition said Assad ordered detainees to be moved to military targets for use as human shields against U.S. strikes.
Three Damascus residents, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed such movements.
One man said two members of the elite Republican Guards broke into an empty house he owns, showing him an official paper stating they were authorized to do so because Syria is at war. He said he bribed the soldiers and they left. A woman in another area said soldiers moved into a school next to her house and she was terrified.
In Cairo, the 22-state Arab League was holding an emergency session on Syria. The Saudi Arabian foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, prodded member states to back international measures against the Syrian regime to “deter this aggression by all possible means.”
If the world does nothing, the Syrian regime will be encouraged to “go on with its crimes,” he said.
However, it appeared unlikely the League would back Western military action, since key members, including Egypt, are opposed.