“He who talks a lot doesn’t act,” said Souad, a Damascus resident, mocking US President Barack Obama as a “coward” for delaying a decision to attack the Syrian regime.
“Obama is a coward. He didn’t strike because he knows that our President Bashar (al-Assad) is all-powerful,” said the employee of nationality electricity firm Ferdaws, in the northeast of the capital.
In the wealthy neighbourhood people went about their business without seeming too worried about the thuds from intermittent shelling of rebel positions outside the city centre.
A similarly calm atmosphere prevailed at one of the area’s traditional, men-only cafes, where some customers appeared more interested in winning at backgammon than by Obama’s speech.
On Saturday the US president said he will ask US lawmakers to approve a strike on Syria when Congress returns from summer recess on September 9, effectively lifting the threat of an imminent attack.
“He was like an actor taking part in a play being shown to the American people,” staunch government supporter Hassan Azzam, 73, said of Obama.
“I saw him, he was trembling like a leaf as he spoke, he seemed really troubled,” said Azzam, leafing through a copy of the state newspaper Ath-Thawra.
Obama’s unexpected speech was broadcast by Syrian state television and on Sunday many in Damascus shared Azzam’s view that the president of the world’s most powerful army decided not to act because he feared the reaction of Assad’s allies, notably Iran.
“(The Iranians) really intended to strike Israel… and Obama backed down because he knew that in response (to US strikes on Syria) Israel would be wiped off the map,” said Azzam.
Asked by AFP for their reactions to Obama’s speech, many Syrians poked fun at the US president.
“Obama? Who is he anyway,” joked Ali, 18.
“If he wanted to strike, he would have done it one hour,” added his friend Mohammed. The US Congress, “like the British parliament, will not approve a decision to strike.”
In a first official reaction to Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a military strike, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad urged US lawmakers to show “wisdom” when they vote.
In the upscale Damascus district of Mazzeh there was a semblance of normality at the swimming pool of one of the luxury hotels, contrasting sharply with the sound of explosions several kilometres (miles) away.
Anxiety had grown over the past week along with the threat of punitive Western air strikes on strategic targets of the Syrian regime after an alleged chemical weapons attack on its citizens.
These finally gave way on Sunday to at least a superficial sense of relief.
“I didn’t listen to Obama,” said Line, wearing a mini-skirt, big sun glasses, and pink nail varnish.
“That doesn’t interest me. Today I’m just hanging out at the pool,” she said carelessly.
Numerous well-off Syrians shrugged off the threat of US missile strikes on Sunday by relaxing at some of the luxury hotels in Damascus, which are among the city’s best protected sites.
“Look at my friend, she came from Lebanon to witness the air strikes and they haven’t happened,” laughed Mirna, wearing a bikini and sipping coffee at the side of the pool.
“As David Cameron hid behind parliament, so Obama wants to hide behind the US Congress,” the young Russian woman added, referring to the British prime minister’s own vote on authorising military action, which he lost in a stunning defeat.
“(Obama) is saying, ‘I really want to strike, but I would love it if someone pushed me not to act’,” she joked.
“The United States is no longer the policeman of the world, it’s finished,” said Mirna, convinced there would be no US military strikes.
“If (Obama) had wanted to hit Syria, it could have been done in a phone call,” she added.