DAMASCUS, Syria —
On Thursday, the U.S. administration shared intelligence with lawmakers in an effort to convince them that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people.
Damascus shops and supermarkets were filled with people stocking up on food and other necessities ahead of the expected strikes, although there appeared to be no signs of panic or shortages. Residents complained, however, that prices have shot up because of the high demand.
Kheireddine Nahleh, a 53-year-old government employee, put on a brave face.
"We got used to the sound of shelling," he said. "Death is the same, be it with a mortar or with an American missile. I'm not afraid."
Some rebels were excitedly anticipating U.S.-led strikes, hoping it would help them advance toward Damascus and change the course of the civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to stream into neighboring countries.
But military intervention was unappealing to many in Damascus, even among opponents of the regime.
"As a Syrian citizen, I just cannot support a Western attack on my country," said one resident who refused to give her name out of fears for her security. "I'm so scared that I haven't slept in three days."
The U.N. inspectors headed out in a three-vehicle convoy following an early morning delay.
The U.N. has said some of the inspectors will travel to laboratories in Europe to deliver the material they've collected this week during trips to the Damascus suburbs purportedly hit by toxic gas.
Russia, which as a staunch ally of the Assad regime is fiercely hostile to military intervention, expressed bewilderment at why the U.N. team was leaving so soon.
"We don't quite understand why the entire team had to be going back to The Hague when there are many questions about a possible use of chemical weapons in other areas in Syria," said Yuri Ushakov, President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy adviser.