Syrian opposition forces feel let down by Obama

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition forces feel let down and more divided than ever because of President Barack Obama's decision

to seek a diplomatic path to disarming Damascus of its chemical weapons.

Many rebels who had held out hopes that

U.S.-led strikes on President Bashar Assad's government would help tip

the scales

as the two sides faced a deadly stalemate said America has

indirectly given the embattled leader a second wind as a statesman

negotiating with world powers.

"We're on our own," Mohammad Joud, an opposition fighter in the war-shattered northern city of Aleppo, said via Skype. "I

always knew that, but thanks to Obama's shameful conduct, others are waking up to this reality as well."

Rebels who have been fighting for 2 ½ years to topple Assad say the U.S. has repeatedly reneged on promises to assist their

rebellion, offering only rhetoric. In June, Obama announced he would provide lethal aid to the rebels, but so far none of

that assistance has gotten to the opposition and the Syrian leader's forces have gained the advantage.

Violence continued Wednesday when government

warplanes hit a field hospital in the town of al-Bab near Aleppo,

killing 11

people and wounding dozens more, according to the Britain-based

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The group, which relies

on reports from activists on the ground, said a Yemeni doctor was

among those killed in the airstrike.

After a feverish campaign to win over

Congress and the American people to support military strikes against

Syria, Obama said

Tuesday he would give diplomacy more time to rid the country of

its chemical weapons arsenal that Washington says was used

to gas and kill more than 1,400 people on Aug. 21 in rebel-held

parts of the Ghouta area outside Damascus. The death toll

has not been confirmed, but even conservative estimates from

international organizations put it as at least several hundred.

The president did not say how long he would wait.

Although Obama had said the attacks would be

limited in time and scope with no intention of dislodging Assad, rebel

commanders

had planned to try to exploit them to shift the momentum in their

favor after months of being on the defensive in what has

become a war of attrition. Several rebels said they were opposed

"in principle" to U.S. intervention but saw it as a necessity

to change the situation on the ground.

However, Assad, who has denied his forces

were responsible for the attack and instead blamed rebels, fended off

the threat

of military action, at least for now, by agreeing to relinquish

his chemical weapon stocks under a plan initiated by Russia.

"Assad's regime is going to be stronger

because while they've agreed to give up their chemical weapons, they get

to keep everything

else to fight the opposition that has lost territory in the past

year and has now suffered a big blow," said Ayham Kamel,

a Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group in London. "The

opposition will struggle with morale and sense of purpose."

Moreover, the opposition has been hobbled by

increasing infighting between al-Qaida-affiliated militants and more

moderate

rebels as well as between militants and ethnic Kurds in the

country's northeast. An influx of more sophisticated weapons from

Saudi Arabia earlier this year does not appear to have made a

significant mark on the ground, where Assad's forces are on

the offensive.

Underscoring the government's resiliency,

hundreds of people drove through streets in the capital, Damascus,

honking their

car horns to celebrate Assad's birthday on Wednesday. The Syrian

leader, who turned 48, still retains popularity among some

segments of Syrian society, particularly members of his Alawite

sect and other minorities, including Christians.

"People were hoping for America to strike to

bring about some kind of solution, but we also expected that nothing

would happen

because nobody has a solution for Syria," said Bissan, a resident

of Damascus, who spoke to The Associated Press during her

visit to Beirut Wednesday. She insisted her full name not be used

for fear of reprisals.

"We are all tired of bombs and we don't care

about Assad and the opposition army (rebels), if they go or stay,

because they

are all responsible for crimes," she added. "People just want some

food, some peace and their relatives released from prisons."

Loay al-Mikdad, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, a loose-knit alliance of rebel factions that is backed by the West, said

the regime is just buying more time and trying to fool the international community.

"We don't believe that this delay for any

kind of intervention will stop the regime from killing Syrian people or

be for the

Syrian people's benefit. It will give Assad more time, and every

minute, every day, every hour that passes will cost us more

blood and Bashar will continue killing and nothing will change,"

he said.

The disappointment was also felt by many of

the refugees scattered across neighboring countries in Turkey, Jordan

and in Lebanon.

"I think that Obama is the most cowardly

American president," asked Rabie Mahameed, a Syrian refugee from the

southern town

of Daraa, now living at the sprawling refugee camp of Zaatari, in

Jordan. "What is he waiting for, another two years of killing

until all the Syrians get killed? There is no peaceful solution.

If there is no military strike, the crisis will never be

solved."

Abdul Hameed Abu Mohammad, another Syrian refugee, said he was disappointed.

"Postponing the strike is a game, because no one trusts the regime," he said.

The process of disarming Syria promises to

be a lengthy, complicated process rife with challenges and, many are

skeptical

the regime would follow through on its commitments and fear it

will continue its crackdown against the opposition with more

traditional weapons.

"Warplanes have killed far more people than the chemical weapons," said Yasser, a fighter in Ghouta who would only give his

first name for fear of reprisals.