Opposition: Failure to act will embolden Assad’s regime

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BEIRUT — Syrians opposed to President Bashar Assad expressed anger on Saturday that President Obama would not imminently authorize military action against the Syrian regime, saying that failure to act after the threats that have been made would embolden the Assad government.

“Assad has been given the green light by the international community,” said Abu Qatada of the Damascus Military Council, speaking from a rebel-held area west of the capital.

“The message he got from the international community is that he can kill his people with conventional means, just not with chemical weapons.”

After a day of widespread panic in the capital Damascus, others also expressed anxiety about how the regime would respond to the delay.

“I feel betrayed,” said a 24-year old woman who asked to be identified by only her first name, Sarah, because she fears retaliation.

“Assad comes out of this mess victorious. He is winning so far; and his confidence in himself and his regime will grow,” she said, speaking by telephone from the capital.

Obama’s announcement came as Syrians braced for an American attack on Saturday after the U.N. inspectors mandated with investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria left the country. Their departure opened the door to the possibility that strikes could be imminent, even though U.S. officials had stressed that no decision had yet been made to proceed with punitive attacks intended to deter the use of chemical weapons.

The turnaround came in the wake of toughly worded statements on Friday that the United States could not “turn a blind eye” to what officials call incontrovertible evidence that forces loyal to Assad launched a large scale poison gas attack against civilians earlier this month.

Laying out details of U.S. intelligence on the incident, Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Friday said that 1,429 people had been killed, including 426 children.

Syria said that military intervention would “claim hundreds of innocent victims whose blood will be on the hands of the United States and those who join it in this aggression,” according to a statement on the official state news agency Web site on Saturday.

U.S. intelligence based on an intercepted phone call between Syrian officials after the attack is “too ridiculous to be discussed,” the statement said.

On Syrian state television Saturday, a stream of pro-government pundits took to the air to voice their outrage at the prospect of intervention.

On a live talk show, Salim Harba, a political analyst close to the Syrian government, said that if the United States gambled with a military strike, it would be the “biggest strategic mistake they made in their history.” Allies such as Russia would increase their support for the Syrian government and the United States would be forced to “tactically retract” or go ahead and “strategically fail,” he said.

Phoning in from Beirut, another commentator, Kamel Wazni, described the United States as “addicted to wars.”

“This is not a war on Syria. It’s a war on the region,” he said. “The friends of Syria will not give up on Syria.”

Coverage was interspersed with national songs praising the Syrian military.

The U.N. experts, who were already in the country to investigate previous allegations of chemical weapons use when the Aug. 21 attack took place, spent four days interviewing witnesses and taking blood and urine samples at sites where rockets loaded with poisonous gas are believed to have fallen in the Damascus suburbs.

The Syrian government had asked the U.N. team to extend its mission to investigate its claims of rebel attacks involving chemical weapons — a request widely seen as a stalling tactic.

Syria rejects any “incomplete” report that does not include investigations of sites where Syrian soldiers were exposed to toxic gases, said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, in comments published on the state news agency site.

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