The Salafist-jihadist insurgency, and the rapid emergence of one of al-Qaeda’s most fearsome affiliates within it, has fundamentally changed the war in Syria.
While the brutal devastation caused by the Syrian conflict has affected many parts of the country, the government has long sought to portray Damascus as an oasis of calm. But under the surface things aren’t the same in the capital.
One morning last week, while visiting a friend's house on the outskirts of the old city of Damascus, I heard high-pitched voices shouting “Irhal ya Bashar!” (“Leave, o Bashar”). I peered out the window onto the street but couldn't see anything. Later, when I went out, I tracked the chants to children innocently swinging to and fro on a large rusty metal swing in the street. The protest chant against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad would be nothing out of the ordinary in Homs, the city near the Lebanese border that has been a center of the Syrian revolt, but to hear it from children’s mouths in the heart of the capital shows how far the revolution has spread.