Syrians divided on support for Russian move but appear to agree it has undercut Obama

September 10, 2013

Syrians voiced mixed reactions Tuesday to a Russian-led proposal for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, although state-run media and opposition representatives alike suggested that President Obama had been wrong-footed by the move.

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki confirmed that his government is backing the Russian initiative in order to “spare the blood of Syrians” and prevent a conflict that could extend beyond the region, Syrian state television reported.

In a front-page editorial, meanwhile, the pro-government newspaper Al Watan trumpeted that Moscow and Damascus had pulled “the rug from underneath Obama,” removing his pretext for military action.

“If the strike was to stop any more chemical attacks, as he claims, here are the weapons under international observation,” it read.

Over Our Dead Bodies, a pro-government grass-roots movement that has held a sit-in for more than 10 days near military installations on Mount Qasioun, near Damascus, said it would continue its campaign despite the perceived U.S. pullback, calling for a march Wednesday against foreign intervention.

However, the Syrian Opposition Coalition said in a statement that the Russian plan was yet another stalling technique that would only give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad more time to cause “death and destruction.”

“It’s just another game by Russia and Assad to save the regime and avoid intervention,” said Tariq al-Dimashqi, an activist who volunteered in a makeshift hospital in the Damascus suburbs Aug. 21, the day of the alleged chemical attack, and uses a pseudonym for security reasons. “We hope that the U.S.A. will intervene, but it now seems that it will not happen. They are just giving him more time to kill more people.”

With the United States appearing to have flip-flopped on the idea of a military strike, some Syrians turned to satire, with both pro- and anti-government activists sharing mocking photos online. One showed an image of Obama fleeing from a lion — a play on the name Assad, which means lion in Arabic.

Another showed Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem smiling at his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, with a caption reading, “I have absolute trust in you, and that’s enough,” a lyric from a well-known Arab love song.

“For the past couple of weeks, the world has been deciding our fate without consulting us, and the only way I personally found to handle the fear of a possible strike was to make fun of it,” said Salma, a 24-year-old pro-government supporter who declined to give her last name.

Loveday Morris is a Beirut-based correspondent for The Post. She has previously covered the Middle East for The National, based in Abu Dhabi, and for the Independent, based in London and Beirut.
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