This week seven major Islamist groups united to form the Islamic Front, an anti-democracy camp, calling for religious rule over Syria. Meanwhile the “moderate” rebels are losing steam and their revolutionary cause is fading in appeal: enough opposition leaders have proven to be corrupt and ineffectual that they now provoke disillusionment and even disgust.
In diplomatic developments, Geneva II peace talks are now set for Jan. 22, theoretically convening the regime and the rebels at the negotiating table (though there are tough open questions about who gets to attend, i.e., which parties can credibly represent the opposition and whether Iran will be invited in the mix). The U.S. has offered to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons at sea, while overall in Syria U.S. influence is fading.
There’s no clear consensus on whether the Iran nuclear deal will help foster a Syrian peace. It does reorder regional politics in ways that shift Turkey’s position on Syria, at a time when Qatar’s foreign policy is also taking a softer stance (Turkey and Qatar had previously been staunch backers of the opposition).
Even with the flurry of geopolitical news, Syria’s women and children still managed to make it into the headlines through a series of reports chronicling their suffering and exploitation. One European human-rights group found that more than 6,000 women have been raped, and others targeted by snipers and used as human shields. Children, who make up more than half of Syrian refugees, have been left destitute and without schooling, as UNHCR shows in a new multimedia report. Some children have become the family breadwinners, harvesting crops, working in restaurants or sifting through trash for aluminum cans.
Their lives are intertwined with the fighters clashing on the battlefield and the politicians dueling in the court of public opinion. The longer the war drags on, the deeper Syria’s women and children fall into an abyss, away from any “normal” life they had hoped to recover.