A Syrian woman talks on her mobile phone in central Damascus
A Syrian woman talks on her mobile phone in central Damascus. On the streets of Syria's capital, amid the rumble of artillery, opponents and supporters of Bashar al-Assad's regime have one thing in common: a complete disregard for the re-elected US president. © Joseph Eid - AFP
A Syrian woman talks on her mobile phone in central Damascus
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Roueida Mabardi, AFP
Last updated: November 8, 2012

Damascus united in disregard for Obama

On the streets of Syria's capital, amid the rumble of artillery, opponents and supporters of Bashar al-Assad's regime have one thing in common: a complete disregard for the re-elected US president.

"He changed nothing during his first term and he won't improve things in the next four years," Umm Omar, 34, said of President Barack Obama as she led her two children through a Damascus square where tufts of grass poked through a neglected stone walkway.

In Damascus at least, the United States' 44th president has the dubious privilege of uniting the Syrian people, who are sharply divided over a revolt that has cost more than 37,000 lives since it broke out in March 2011.

Assad supporters accuse the Obama administration of seeking the departure of their president and aiding the armed rebels, referred to as terrorists by state media outlets.

The opposition accuses the US head of state of sitting on his hands and shying away from providing the edge rebels need to defeat the loyalist army.

"Washington's policy will remain the same. Obama can't do anything; he lacks the will," said Abu Ismail, a beggar who lives in Mount Kassioun, the army's launchpad for artillery bombardments of rebel-held suburbs.

"America's Middle East policies under the last president, George W. Bush, ruined Iraq and massacred its people," said Ismail, 82.

In March 2003, Bush ordered the US invasion of Iraq, Syria's larger neighbour, then led by Saddam Hussein.

Washington paid heavily for the war, losing more than 4,000 soldiers, while tens of thousands of Iraqis perished in the invasion and the car bombings and sectarian killings that followed.

Many in Syria fear the country could suffer the same fate and would prefer the United States not to get involved.

"Obama has nothing to do with us. It is the Syrian people who will determine their fate. Let them leave us alone; we will settle our own problems," said Yazan, 24, a government clerk.

The Assad supporter angrily said the re-elected president would do better to pay attention to the "innocents" dying in near-daily explosions in Damascus than to the country's conflict.

After nearly 20 months of upheaval in the country, Syria's capital has become engulfed in war. Surrounded by poorer suburbs, largely controlled by rebel battalions, Damascenes have begun to lose hope of a quick solution.

Originally from the rebel town of Kanaker in the Golan Heights -- about 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Damascus -- Umm Malek did not mask her support for the opposition, but scorns the idea of US support at such a late stage.

"So far, Obama has done nothing for the Syrian people. Why would we want him to intervene now?" demanded Umm Malek, 57, wearing a white scarf and black coat.

Jeweler Fateh was also dubious. "His presidency won't accomplish anything. It was useless before and that won't change today."

The Syrian authorities offered no immediate reaction to Obama's victory, though state media carried the news in their headlines.

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