To give you an overview of the latest news, we’ve organized the latest Syrian developments in a curated summary.
Hezbollah Pledges to Fight on in Syria. In a Thursday speech by Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia ruled out a withdrawal of its fighters in Syria. It was a response by demands from Lebanese leaders, who called on Hezbollah to retreat from Syria and form a national unity government (Lebanon otherwise stands at a political deadlock). “We are not in a position to bargain Syria for a government,” Nasrallah said.
Hezbollah has been a longtime ally of President Bashar al-Assad, benefitting strategically and tactically from its Syrian alliance. In May, the group joined Assad’s fight in earnest; an article in the New Yorker marked the “terrifying development … the beginning of a regional war.” The New York Times called it a dramatic gamble.
“It’s our battle, and we are up to it,” Nasrallah said at the time, in a televised address.
The result: fresh energy behind the Assad regime on the battlefield, and dangerous political division in Lebanon. The stakes for Lebanon are high: scales tilting towards civil strife, while 1 million Syrian refugees swamp the country.
Activists Abused by al-Qaida, Flee Raqqa. Syrian pro-democracy activists are being arrested, beaten and kidnapped by al-Qaida-linked groups in Raqqa, the BBC reports, citing activists who’ve fled to Turkey. Raqqa is now in full control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaida-linked group that has suppressed its critics, imposed its strict interpretation of Islamist law and torched a local church.
“I saw many people who had signs of lashes on their bodies after being released from an ISIS prison,” one activist, photographer Mezar Matar, told the BBC. His brother had disappeared after filming a battle between ISIS and a brigade of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Other FSA fighers in Raqqa have joined Jabhat al-Nusra, another al-Qaida-linked group, as a form of protection; they see ISIS as a greater and more threatening evil. Assad lost control of Raqqa in March, according to the BBC. Since then, residents have told Syria Deeply that Islamists have effectively formed a new regime, with a stifling ideology in place.
“Now Raqqa, its population swollen by displaced families, may be the largest city in the world ever to be controlled by al-Qaida,” the BBC reports.
Syrians in Need, Bracing for ‘Worst Winter in 100 Years.’ NPR’s Deborah Amos reports from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, as Syrian refugees do their best to prepare for a bitter cold winter: “Everyone is sick here. There’s not enough food. There are more than 400 of these refugee settlements in this farming valley, where Syrian families live in tents, unfinished buildings and animal sheds. But the tent camps are the most vulnerable.” Leading up to this third winter of Syria’s war, international aid for Syria has fallen short, while more than a million displaced children will face sub-zero temperatures.
“Many have no shoes or socks … they have no timber or fuel to help them keep warm, and they lack the clothing and blankets to prevent the implacable cold from invading their bodies,” wrote Antonio Guterres of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
With so few resources at hand and such daunting challenges ahead, NPR’s report presages testy relations between refugees and their host country in Lebanon.
“The U.N. continues to register thousands a month here. Tensions are rising with a local population that can hardly cope. This winter will strain Lebanon even more and is likely to deepen the suffering of the refugees.”
Suggested Reads from Our Editorial Team:
Al Jazeera: Syria Opposition Says Armed Kurds ‘Hostile’
Daily Star: Barrage of Rockets from Syria Hit East Lebanon
Deutsche Welle: Deserted Syrian Children Flee to Lebanon
New York Times: Syrian Forces Recapture Damascus from Rebels
World Crunch: In Syria, The ‘Stockpiling’ of Foreign Hostages