Syria Crisis: Assad Remains Defiant, Opposition Disappointed

PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 19, 2009.
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The morning after President Obama announced that he would seek Congressional authorization before taking military action against Syria, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remained defiant, saying he stands ready "to confront any foreign aggression"

"U.S. threats will not move Syria away from its principle of fighting terror supported by some western and regional countries," Assad told an Iranian official during a meeting in Damascus today.

"Syria is able to confront any foreign aggression," he added.

According to Iran's semi-official news outlet FARS, Assad met with a senior Iranian delegation in the capital to discuss "issues of mutual interest as well as the latest developments in crisis-hit Syria."

Syria Prepares for Possible Airstrikes: See the Photos

Syria's Deputy Prime Minister Qadr Jamil echoed Assad, saying "The Syrian army's readiness is what warded off U.S. aggression against Syria," according to Press TV.

Syrian state TV trumpeted, "Syria Confronts the Aggressors," reporting that Obama had called off the attack because he could not prove the allegations that Assad's forces had used chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, Al-Thawra, a Syrian state-run newspaper close to the regime described Obama's decision as "the start of the historic American retreat."

5 Possible Reactions to U.S. Strike on Syria

"Whether the Congress lights the red or green light for an aggression, and whether the prospects of war have been enhanced or faded, President Obama has announced yesterday, by prevaricating or hinting, the start of the historic American retreat," Al-Thawra wrote on Sunday's front page.

Regime loyalists embraced a shared sense of victory today, if only fleeting. And for Damascus residents, a sigh of relief and a return to normal life amid the constant sound of shelling in the suburbs.

"Back to work as usual as government pounds Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh since early AM after several days of relative calm. Woke us up," NYkerinDamascus, a self-described New Yorker in Syria tweeted.

She added, "wondering what to do w all those provisions we bought now that the 'imminent strike' might be a while."

Crushing Disappointment

Most Syrian rebels did not have access to the live broadcast of Obama's speech on Syrian state TV but as the headline trickled out of the capital, crushing disappointment set in.

"The Syrian people feel more alone now than ever," Mouaz Mustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force told ABC News. "This is absolutely a blow to many in the opposition on the ground who've suffered the brunt of the chemical attacks."

White House Says Syria Is Not Iraq

ABC News' fixer in northern Syria reports that many Free Syrian Army (FSA) leaders now doubt that Obama will take action at all. Just more U.S. talk, they told ABC News, same old stories.

Col. Abdulbasit Sa'ad al-Dein, a FSA leader based in Aleppo pleaded for military intervention.

"Military intervention is in the interest of the Syrian people - we need this to solve the Syrian crisis," he told USA Today. "We need direct strikes on significant regime targets such as military installations ... to save civilian lives."

The Map of Alleged Chemical Attacks in Syria

Syrian activists at home and abroad all agree civilians will pay the price for Obama's decision, but remain deeply divided on the path forward. Beirut-based Syrian activist Shakeeb Al-Jabri told ABC News he was "very disappointed" over Obama's decision.

Like the FSA commanders, many activists do not expect any action from the U.S. while others expect action after Congress returns to Washington.

"The current worry... is that Assad will be able to move everything into hiding [before a strike]," Jabri said. "Then the strikes won't matter at all."

Jabri also spoke to the fear shared by the FSA that the regime will lash out viciously following a possible U.S. military strike.

"My colleagues in Damascus and Homs and everywhere else are terrified of what the bombing campaign will bring. They spent everyday of the past ten days on their toes. Obama's 'tomorrow or next week or next month' bit is a lot harder on them than it is on Assad," Jabri said.

Officially, the spokesman for the Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, Louay Safi called Obama's decision a "failure of leadership."

Read the Obama Administration's Unclassified Intelligence Report on Syria

On Sunday afternoon, the Coalition released a statement urging coordination with opposition forces.

"The Syrian Coalition believes any possible military action should be carried out in conjunction with an effort to arm the Free Syrian Army. This will be vital in restraining Assad and ending the killing," the coalition said in a statement.

The head of the Coalition, Ahmed Aljarba, is expected to address the Arab League foreign ministers tonight in Cairo.

The League's deputy chief, Ahmed Ben Helli announced an emergency session "in light of rapid developments in the Syria situation." The permanent members are meeting Sunday afternoon behind closed doors and the minister level talks are slated to begin at 6p.m. local (12p.m. EDT).

Last week, the 22-nation bloc called the Aug. 21 attacks a "horrible crime carried out with internationally prohibited chemical weapons" and placed the "entire responsibility" on the Assad regime. However, the permanent members stopped short of calling for military action outside of U.N. framework.

Israel Remains On Alert

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained largely mum on Syria this morning, reiterating that Israel is ready for "any possible scenario."

"Israel is serene and self-confident," Netanyahu said in today's cabinet meeting.

"Israel's citizens know well that we are prepared for any possible scenario. And Israel's citizens should also know that our enemies have very good reasons not to test our power and not to test our might," he added.

But op-eds in Israeli media this morning accused Obama of getting "cold feet."

"The assessment is that Obama is buying time in hope of finding a diplomatic route that will allow for the attack to be called off altogether," said Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper.

Read: Obama to Seek Congress Authorization for Syria Strike

Chairman of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennet struck a harsher tone, saying "The international stammering and vacillation over Syria proves, yet again, that Israel can trust in none but itself," according to Reuters.

Roy Keider, the CEO of Israel's Reut Institute told ABC News that "President Obama's decision to consult Congress shows hesitancy or lack of decisiveness" in Israeli eyes.

"Knowing that Israel could be the one who actually suffers the consequences of a US strike, I believe that most Israelis will support such a move in order to deter Syria from using non-conventional weapons and to signal to Iran that US means business when it comes to non-conventional weapons," Keider added.

Israeli Radio reported Sunday morning that the Israeli Defense Forces remain on high alert and reserve troops called up last week have yet to be released.

On Friday, the IDF deployed an Iron Dome battery in the Tel Aviv area facing north. Iron Dome batteries were also deployed in Haifa, Ashkelon, and Eilat and additional batteries are ready to be moved as needed, according to Israeli media.

ABC News' Molly Hunter reported from Jerusalem, Alex Marquardt and Terry Moran both contributed reporting from Beirut.

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