BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Two days after President Obama shocked Syrians by delaying expected American missile strikes, the country remains off balance, with the military still bracing, the rebels still hoping to capitalize on the confusion and everyone uncertain whether the attack has been called off for good.
Businesses were open and shops busy in government-held areas around the country on Monday, residents say, but not all government troops had moved out of the schools and other civilian areas they had moved into ahead of the attacks that were expected Saturday, and anxiety and anticipation from that day lingered.
The fighting, which was in a noticeable lull on Saturday, appeared to be gearing back up. Antigovernment activists and state news media reported clashes across the country on Monday.
Both sides have moved to capitalize on recent events. The government has portrayed Mr. Assad as a hero for facing down the American president, and his supporters have circulated jokes on social media mocking President Obama; one campaign features high-quality videos of Syrians old and young using a vulgar phrase to tell him, essentially, to get lost. The military resumed heavy aerial bombardment of East Ghouta, the sprawling hinterland of Damascus that bore the brunt of the chemical attacks that American officials have blamed on Mr. Assad's government, which denies responsibility.
For their part, rebels claim to have taken new ground in the Qalamoun area north of Damascus and declare they will push forward while some of the government's personnel and weapons remain dispersed to avoid being targeted. The state news agency, SANA, said the military had killed foreign fighters as they tried to infiltrate areas closer to the capital. Opposition figures have seized the moment to argue for a more comprehensive strike, backed by increased aid to their forces, to try to shift the balance in the conflict, which began three and a half years ago with peaceful protests but have devolved into civil war after bloody government crackdowns.
It is unclear how much the government's precautionary troop movements change the tactical picture, said Kamel Wazne, a political analyst who runs the Center for American Strategic Studies in Beirut, for the same reason that Mr. Obama's proposal for missile strikes without involving American ground troops may make little difference to the dynamic on the battlefield.
"Syria's new military doctrine is starting to resemble the resistance doctrine," Mr. Wazne said, referring to guerrilla tactics in which forces are dispersed and there is no center of gravity that can be easily taken out.
With the help of its allies Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, Mr. Assad's forces have adapted, shifting emphasis from a conventional army trained to repel an invasion to a counterinsurgency force made up of smaller mobile units made up of security forces and local militias, Mr. Wazne and other analysts said.
In the long run, the "militia-ization" of the security forces "contains the seeds of the regime's disintegration," said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East-based analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, creating multiple power centers and armed groups with local interests that might eventually diverge from the government's. But for now, he said, the tactic is allowing the state to hold its ground.
Mr. Wazne said he expected that in coming days, the government would step up attacks on rebel-held areas around Damascus, seeking to shore up shaky areas where rebels might muster an attack should the United States strike.
The government remains defiant, declaring itself ready to retaliate against any strike while at the same time portraying Mr. Obama's turn to Congress as a way of backing out of the attack. But the lingering uncertainty remained another source of pressure for a government with its hands full.
Mr. Obama "wants to keep brandishing the sword of aggression on Syria without fully giving up the idea of an attack and even without setting a definite date for the aggression," the country's minister for reconciliation, Ali Haidar, told The Associated Press.
The Local Coordinating Committees, a coalition of antigovernment groups, issued a statement calling for a more comprehensive strike, backed by increased support to rebel fighters, that would end Mr. Assad's bombardment of civilians by grounding airplanes and taking out artillery. The group said that a limited strike would merely increase the violence and help give Mr. Assad "complete confidence that no one would prevent him from killing," with no guarantee that it would prevent future use of chemical weapons.
"We don't want just a limited strike, trimming the regime's nails," said Munzer Makhos, a member of Syria's exile opposition coalition, said in an interview from Paris, describing the message he said he had conveyed to France's president, François Hollande.
But he said he believed that the United States would strike and that Mr. Obama had hardened his position in his speech on Saturday, even as he postponed the attack.
"It was obvious that Obama was not too excited about such a choice -- there was a confusion in his position," Mr. Makhos said of the period leading up to the speech.
"I can see the decision was born," he said, "although it's a Caesarean birth."
Mr. Makhos said he believed the issue facing Washington was determining the scope of the strike and preparing for reactions by the Assad government and its allies Hezbollah and Iran.
In Damascus, bread lines eased Monday and the Syrian pound strengthened against the dollar. Soldiers could be seen looking relaxed, drinking tea and matte, a mild stimulant drink favored by Syrians, outside their new headquarters in schools and other civilian buildings.
But people were still anxious and keeping reserves of food, said a small-business man in Damascus who asked not to be identified for his safety.
"Many believe that the strike will be carried out sooner or later," he said.
"I think Obama wants to legitimize the strike and to give time to American people to be convinced fully that the strike is a must," the businessman said, adding: "I believe it's rational. He is hesitant warrior and wise politician."
But a political analyst and member of Mr. Assad's Baath Party declared, "Obama is buying time looking for an 11th-hour deal with Russia and Syria, but he will get nothing -- just a bad weak image for his country."
Some rebels and civilian activists hoped to take back the initiative from the Islamist extremist factions that have dominated some parts of the country after some rebels went into hiding, apparently more concerned than the government about being targeted by an American strike.
An antigovernment activist reached by telephone in the northeastern city of Raqqa, where residents frequently protest against the overbearing rule of the Qaeda-affiliated faction known as the Islamic State of Iraq, said that the group's fighters appeared to be on the move and off balance.
"The ordinary rebels and Free Syrian Army brigades are feeling stronger," he said.
He said he held out hope that the strikes would take place and allow more soldiers to defect. A sore point for rebels is that defections have slowed before reaching a critical enough mass to gut the army.
He said he hoped Mr. Obama was consulting Congress to win legitimacy to expand the scope of the strikes -- something Mr. Obama has not indicated he would do.
"So, we should wait for a week," he said, "then see what the United States will do."
Reporting was contributed by employees of The New York Times from Damascus and Beirut, Hwaida Saad from Beirut, and Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.