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Syria's rebels have a new villain: the United States

The US has stepped up its rhetoric against President Assad and is providing covert support to rebels. But for many fighting the Assad regime, it is not enough.

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For those challenging the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the list of villains has always included the regime's closest allies: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah

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But as the death toll rises and Syria marks 17 months and counting of revolt, many in the embattled city of Aleppo say they have added another, perhaps surprising, villain: the United States.

The US is an arch-foe of the Syrian regime. US officials have stated plainly and repeatedly that Assad "must" go. And President Barack Obama earlier this year signed a secret order authorizing clandestine aid to rebel forces, it was reported today.

But in the rebel-held enclave of Salaheddin, guerrilla gunmen and ordinary Syrians alike wonder why the US has not acted to stop the killing by at least ending the Syrian Army's artillery bombardment and imposing a no-fly zone on the helicopters and planes that menace them from the skies. 

"We all believe the US and all Western countries want Assad to stay in power," says the coordinator for the Revolutionary Council in Aleppo, who gave his name as Abu Thaier. 

"I believe that Syrian intelligence up to this moment is cooperating with the CIA," the wizened revolutionary told the Monitor. "The Westerners are afraid of the destiny of Israel; this is what stops them. Assad takes advantage of that, and says, 'These terrorists [rebels] will go to Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan and we must crush them.'... Western countries gave up on the Syrian people because they believe most demonstrators are Islamists," he says.

'Petroleum is worth more than Syrian blood'

Syrians under fire from government troops often bring up Washington's perceived neglect when they see an American journalist. 

"We look on Americans as the most important people to look after democracy," says Abu Thaier. "We consider the torch of freedom in New York a torch for all humanity, not just America. We hope that the Statue of Liberty did not yet lose its real meaning."

He brings up Libya and the US-orchestrated NATO intervention last year that was instrumental in ensuring that rag-tag rebels were able to bring down Muammar Qaddafi. The only difference, he asserts, is that Libya has oil, and Syria does not.

"They think petroleum is worth more than Syrian blood," asserts Abu Thaier. "Now if you are living in Western countries, if someone kills 50 or 100 [pet] animals, the response would be more than for Syrians." 

The United Nations puts the death toll in Syria at 17,000, while rebel groups assert that it is closer to 20,000.  

US officials would take issue with that pessimism. Almost a year ago, Mr. Obama stated: "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside." 

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