SAMAS, Syria — Majed al-Muhammad, the commander of a Syrian antigovernment fighting group, slammed his hand on his desk. “Doesn’t America have satellites?” he asked, almost shouting. “Can’t it see what is happening?”
A retired Syrian Army medic, Mr. Muhammad had reached the rank of sergeant major in the military he now fights against. He said he had never been a member of a party, and loathed jihadists and terrorists.
But he offered a warning to the West now commonly heard among fighters seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad: The Syrian people are being radicalized by a combination of a grinding conflict and their belief that they have been abandoned by a watching world.
If the West continues to turn its back on Syria’s suffering, he said, Syrians will turn their backs in return, and this may imperil Western interests and security at one of the crossroads of the Middle East.
This is a theme that has resonated in recent days, not just in Syria, but in Turkey, where the government fired artillery shells into northern Syria this week after a Syrian mortar round hit a Turkish town and killed five civilians. In Turkey, there is a growing sense of frustration shared by the Syrian rebels that the West, the United States in particular, called for Mr. Assad to leave power, only to sit quietly on the sidelines as the crisis transformed into a bloody civil war.
“We are now at a very critical juncture,” wrote Melih Asik in the Turkish newspaper Milliyet. “We are not only facing Syria, but Iran, Iraq, Russia and China behind it as well. Behind us, we have nothing but the provocative stance and empty promises of the U.S.”
Across northern Syria, in areas that rebels have wrested from government control, such sentiments have become an angry and routine element of the public discourse. Wearied by violence, heading into another winter of fighting, and enraged by what they see as the inaction and hypocrisy of powerful nations, frontline leaders of the rebellion say that the West risks losing a potential ally in the Middle East if the Assad government should fall.
The corollary is frequently sounded, too: The West may be gaining enemies where it might have found friends. As anger grows, armed groups opposed to the United States may grow in numbers and stature, too.
“The United Nations and international community are making a big mistake,” said Ghassan Abdul Wahib, 43, a truck driver and now a leader in Kafr Takharim, a village in the north. “By letting this be a long war, they are dragging Syria toward radicalism, and they will suffer from this for a long time.”
The origins of these sentiments are typically the same: a widely held view that Washington and European capitals are more interested in maintaining the flow of oil from Libya and Iraq, or in protecting Israel, than in Syria and its people’s suffering. The view is supported, Syrians opposed to Mr. Assad say, by the West’s stubborn refusal to provide weapons to the rebels, or to protect civilians and aid the rebels with a no-fly zone.
The contrast with the West’s military assistance and vocal political support to the uprising last year in Libya is frequently drawn.
The donations of nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition by Washington are often called small-scale, to the extent that none of the half-dozen fighting groups visited by journalists for The New York Times, or the many commanders interviewed in Turkey, claimed to have seen, much less received, American aid.
“We haven’t received anything from the outside,” said Thayar, a member of the ad hoc governing body in Kafr Takharim known as the revolutionary council. (He asked that his last name be withheld to protect him and his family from retaliation.) “We read in the media that we are receiving things. But we haven’t seen it. We only received speeches from the West.”
Other men echoed this sentiment, and accused the United States and Europe of playing a double game, in effect of conspiring with the Kremlin to ensure that no nation has to act against the Assad government or on the rebels’ or civilians’ behalf.
In this view, the Kremlin’s insistence that it will not support further action against Syria is regarded as convenient for the White House, which, many commanders and fighters said, issues statements supporting the uprising and condemning the Assad government knowing it will not have to back up words with deeds. Russia has provided weapons and diplomatic support to the Assad government and blocked action by the United Nations Security Council.
Mr. Wahib, the leader in Kafr Takharim, dismissed the discussions in the United Nations as a choreographed show. “The whole world is now trying to destroy Syria,” he said. “The international community knows that Assad is dead, but they want war so it destroys Syria and puts us back 100 years. In this way, Israel will be safe.”
“The United Nations,” he added, “is a partner in destroying Syria.”
Like many activists and fighters, he had a derisive view of what had once been hailed in Western capitals as an achievement by NATO — the military intervention in Libya last year, which Western leaders have said protected civilians and which enabled disorganized rebels to defeat their country’s conventional military.
That campaign was not perfect. NATO killed and wounded many civilians whom it has refused to acknowledge or help. As the war dragged on, many armed groups formed, casting the country’s long-term security in doubt and, after the attack last month on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, jeopardizing Western engagement, too.
But Syrians opposed to Mr. Assad still crave Western military assistance, even if it would only be a no-fly zone to ground the Syrian Air Force, whose aircraft have been attacking cities and towns since this summer. The United States, however, has so far ruled out military involvement in Syria.
Many Syrian men also bristled under what they called common descriptions that their uprising is driven by foreign fighters, or hosts groups linked to Al Qaeda.
“We are not terrorists like the regime says,” said Abu Muhammad, a teacher in Deir Sonbul. “We are fighting for dignity, which has been raped for 40 years.”
In this environment of acrimony and charge and countercharge, the anger of Majed al-Muhammad, the retired sergeant major, was of a type fueled by frustration and loss.
A few days before he received journalists in his office here, from where he commands 200 fighters in the northern highlands of Jebel al-Zawiya, he learned that his sister had been killed in Damascus. A photograph of her bloodied remains, crumpled on the ground, was on his cellphone; he displayed the image with rage.
Then he moved to a collection of ordnance remnants on a table beside his desk. He held up an expended tank shell. “Is it possible for the government to use this against the people?” he asked.
He lifted the remains of an S-5 rocket, an air-to-ground weapon in common use by the Syrian Air Force’s helicopters and jets. He asked if citizens of the United States would tolerate what Syria’s opposition has endured, and not ask for weapons and help, too.
“Is it possible for your helicopters to fire this into the crowds?” He was fuming. His voice rose again. “Do we have the right to live, or not?”
THE NEW YORK TIMES