All in all, while the country still stands split between regime and rebel areas, momentum on the battlefield has tilted towards Assad.
On the opposing side, al-Qaida is ramping up, fueled by cash from the Arabian Gulf; in the most dramatic study, the central city of Raqqa is now an al-Qaida stronghold, where hard-line Islamic rule has sent moderate activists fleeing. Al-Qaida has its own foreign fighters, including hundreds of Western-born jihadis from Europe, who form a trend that’s troubling security officials. And while al-Qaida fighters are stifling critics on the ground, they can’t help but spark criticism and pushback; this week they had to apologize for chopping off the head of the wrong person, mistaking a fellow extremist for the enemy.
Kurds are now running their own region, after declaring an interim autonomous administration. The Syrian opposition has agreed to peace talks, but political progress is hardly inching forward; any hope comes from the possibility of a Geneva II peace conference before the end of the year. Meanwhile, diplomats are churning on a solution for Syria’s chemical weapons – specifically, where to send them for their ultimate dismantling (Albania rejected the notion of taking them in).
On the ground, Syrians are bracing for “the worst winter in 100 years,” while violence has devastating ripple effects on the young (thousands of deserted children have fled Syria alone and teenage girls are getting married for protection from refugee life). Violence continues to threaten the borders of Lebanon and Turkey.
Reads from the Week:
Reuters: U.S., Russia to Discuss Peace Conference on Monday
Asharq Al Awsat: Syria’s Kurds: In or Out?
BBC News: Syrians Place their Faith in Geneva II Talks
Reuters: Assad Allies Profit from Lucrative Food Trade
AP: Syria’s Qalamoun Offensive Forces Thousands to Flee to Lebanon