On the ground in Damascus: Locals defiant toward more U.S. help of rebels

Story highlights

Pro-government residents move about easily as they shop in Damascus

They are confident that more U.S. help to rebels won't make a difference

"America is inventing stories about chemical weapons," one man tells CNN

"We will win," adds another pro-government resident about the civil war

Damascus, Syria CNN  — 

In this government stronghold city, Syrians moved with an air of confidence Friday, defiantly dismissive of how the United States will raise the stakes of the country’s bloody two-year civil war by stepping up support to the rebels.

Enjoying a day off on the Muslim calendar, locals expressed little fear on a busy morning stocking up on bread and juice in a shopping district.

If the outside world was excited about a U.S. retaliatory plan for the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against rebels, the families in the capital’s old Mezzah neighborhood struck a tone in utter contrast.

“America is inventing stories about chemical weapons,” one man told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen. “The Syrian government never used chemical weapons. The rebels have used them, not the government. So they are inventing stories because our army is winning.”

Another man, also shopping for household staples, said the U.S. action won’t make a difference. The government will prevail in the civil war, he asserted.

“What are they going to do? Air strikes on special military areas? They can do that, but we Syrians have proven we can manage and are patient, and we will win,” he told CNN.

On Thursday evening, the Obama administration said the Syrian government crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons, and the White House pledged to increase the “scale and scope” of its support for the opposition, stopping short of saying it will arm the rebels.

The Syrian government accused Washington of releasing “a statement full of lies regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” according to a statement on state TV.

Like the civilians they were protecting, soldiers expressed similar confidence at a checkpoint outside the opposition-held neighborhood of Jobar.

The forces seemed easygoing and stated that morale was so high that they believed the government will take back Jobar. Jobar bears much scarring from fighting, unlike downtown Damascus, which has been untouched by warfare.

In fact, the soldiers believed the government was winning the conflict, they said.

The mood in the capital has changed significantly since two months ago, when car bombs and an Israeli air strike dampened the optimism of pro-government residents.

But the government is now viewed as having gained ground against the rebels by using a new strategy of focusing firepower to key battles in Aleppo and Qusayr, which the regime recaptured this month.

The civil war, however, has taken a toll on the Damascus landscape. The outskirts are pockmarked with the destruction of artillery, but a few blocks away, other communities are unscathed, as if a war wasn’t happening.

CNN’s Frederick Pleitgen reported from Damascus, and Michael Martinez wrote this report from Los Angeles.