BEIRUT — In a narrow alley in the old city of Damascus, a shopkeeper who opposes the Syrian government spent Thursday as usual, drinking coffee with the other merchants who keep him company in place of long-vanished tourists. But the calm on the cobblestone street, he said, could hardly mask the fear and ambivalence over an American military strike.
“Disorder, revenge. Sectarian violence,” he said in a text message, ticking off what he sees as the worst potential consequences of the missile strikes that American officials have threatened against President Bashar Assad’s government, which they blame for a deadly chemical attack last week.
In Damascus, as people stock up on food and water and the government closes central streets and moves troops and materiel into residential areas and schools, even staunch supporters of the uprising against Assad are divided on the looming attack.
Many here feel even a limited strike threatens to inject a new, unpredictable dynamic into a civil war that has largely spared their storied city. And some opponents of the government are loath to see direct American military intervention in their fight, fearful it will hijack and discredit the uprising they have waged for more than two years at great cost.
Though some called early on for NATO intervention, others said they wanted support and arms from Washington — not an attack by the U.S. military. “We know what is best for our country,” said Fahad Darwish, 33, a supermarket worker in Damascus. “We don’t need the Americans to do it for us and we will win this war by the Free Syrian Army,” he added, referring to the loose-knit rebel coalition.
People in the Syrian capital still have a lot to lose. As war ravages the densely populated towns surrounding it, central Damascus, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, remains largely intact. Supporters and opponents of the government still live side by side; as the shopkeeper put it, “People in Damascus are still coexisting.”
But that peace is vulnerable to an American attack.
“They could have defended the values from Day 1 of our revolution and could have helped us, but they waited till the country was destroyed,” Khalid al-Khalifa, a novelist in Damascus, wrote on Facebook, declaring that he opposed American intervention. “Tell me when did the invaders bring freedom,” he wrote. “The fall of the regime will satisfy me, but I don’t want our revolution to be incomplete after all this blood.”