Syrian activists said on Thursday they were sickened by emails which appeared to show President Bashar Assad and his wife shopping for pop music and luxury items while the country descended into bloodshed.
Britain's Guardian newspaper said it obtained some 3,000 emails from Assad and his wife, Asma. The emails, not all verified by the paper yet, showed Assad taking advice from Iran on countering the one-year revolt against his rule that has claimed thousands of lives.
British-born Asma was revealed buying jewelled necklaces from Paris, and Assad downloading music, which activists argued showed the ruling family's detachment from a crisis that is dragging Syria to the brink of civil war and economic collapse.
"He was downloading iTunes songs while his army was shelling us. His wife was buying expensive things from Amazon, that makes me feel sick," said an activist called Rami in Homs.
The heart of the rebellion, Homs has been pounded by armed forces who are trying to rout rebels in the city after crushing their stronghold in the neighborhood of Baba Amr last month.
A fighter from the rebel "Farouq brigade" in Homs said he took comfort in seeing Assad struggling to cope. One email from Assad's wife said: "If we are strong together, we will overcome this together". Others showed he was relying on Syria's main regional backer Iran and media consultants for advice.
"One good thing is this is a clear sign that Assad realises the mess he is in," said the fighter, who calls himself al-Homsi. "But unsurprisingly, as we expected, he really doesn't seem to care how many of his people die so he can keep his throne."
Few activists held out hope that the emails would have an impact on the many Syrians who have not joined the opposition.
"Nobody will hear about these in Syria. After tomorrow they will be forgotten ... Syrians are not reading much," said Ayman Abdel Nour, a former adviser to Assad who left Syria in 2007.
"The issue is that the Syrian government will just ignore this. They will not deny it or acknowledge it and people who watch Syrian state television will be oblivious," said Abdel Nour, speaking from his home in Dubai.
Abu Khaled, an activist on the Syrian border who helps smuggle wounded rebels into Turkey, said Assad's supporters were in denial and the emails would have little impact.
"Those who are in a fog will stay in the fog," he said.
"They have no heart and this won't affect them."
But Samir Nasher, an activist from the Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group abroad, said Assad's reputation would suffer.
"I think this will decrease the esteem some Syrians had for the Assad family, which appears to have been living in luxury while the country bleeds," he said by telephone from Turkey.
Others said seeing some of the mundane emails about furniture purchases made them feel their bloody revolt was still far from over.
"As women and children were dying they were writing all these silly things ... It made me realise our fight isn't just with Bashar al-Assad," said the activist Abu Omar in Damascus, speaking on Skype.
"Our problem is really with people who are supporting this regime, like Iran and Russia, and even the hypocrites in the West who are still procrastinating while people die."
Meanwhile, UN aid chief Valerie Amos said on Thursday that a joint team of Syrian, UN and Organization of Islamic Cooperation staff will begin visiting besieged Syrian towns this weekend to assess the humanitarian situation.
The mission will be led by the Syrian government and the team would "gather information on the overall humanitarian situation and observe first-hand the conditions in various towns and cities," Amos said in a statement.
"I repeat my calls to the government of Syria to allow humanitarian organizations unhindered access, so that they can help people in need, in a neutral and impartial manner," she said.
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