Syria's government hailed as a "victory" a Russian-brokered deal that has averted US strikes, while President Barack Obama defended a chemical weapons pact that the rebels fear has bolstered their enemy in the civil war.
President Bashar al-Assad's jets and artillery hit rebel suburbs of the capital again on Sunday in an offensive that residents said began last week when Obama delayed air strikes in the face of opposition from Moscow and his own electorate.
Speaking of the US-Russian deal, Syrian minister Ali Haidar told Moscow's RIA news agency: "These agreements ... are a victory for Syria, achieved thanks to our Russian friends.
Though not close to Assad, Ali was the first Syrian official to react to Saturday's accord in Geneva by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Bridging an angry East-West rift over Syria, they agreed to back a nine-month U.N. programme to destroy Assad's chemical arsenal.
The deal has put off the threat of air strikes Obama made after poison gas killed hundreds of Syrians on August 21, although he has stressed that force remains an option if Assad reneges. US forces remain in position. Russia still opposes military action but now backs possible U.N. sanctions for non-compliance.
French President Francois Hollande called for a U.N. resolution on Syria backed by the threat of punitive action to be voted by the end of this week. Hollande also said the option of military strikes must remain on the table.
Kerry, visiting Israel, responded to widespread doubts about the feasibility of the "the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal ever" by insisting the plan could work. And he and Obama sought to reassure Israelis the decision to hold fire on Syria does not mean Iran can pursue nuclear weapons with impunity.
Obama embraced the Syria disarmament proposal floated last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin after his plan for US military action hit resistance in Congress. Lawmakers feared an open-ended new entanglement in the Middle East and were troubled by the presence of al Qaeda followers among Assad's opponents.
Obama dismissed critics of his quick-changing tactics on Syria for focusing on "style" not