Alison Meuse

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Three years ago, the Islamic State overran large swaths of Iraq and Syria, and soon declared a caliphate that straddled the border between the two countries. Today, the group's physical caliphate is declining — and the group is preparing its base of fighters for a future under siege.

One of the ways it is doing that is through its musical propaganda.

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On his visit last month to Saudi Arabia, President Trump devoted special attention to the U.S. alliance with Bahrain, a major non-NATO ally that is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

In the past day, countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the Maldives have cut ties with Qatar, citing terrorism concerns. The severance in relations affects air transport, trade and — more crucially for the U.S. — efforts to unify Arab allies.

In Lebanon, the LGBT community has made important strides in recent years. A series of court rulings have poked holes in a law that essentially criminalizes homosexuality. This has encouraged activists to push for greater rights.

More than 100 people, including 68 children, were killed in a suicide attack on Saturday in rebel-held northwestern Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the vast majority of the victims were families evacuating from two Shiite villages, Fuaa and Kefraya, long besieged by rebels. They had been promised safe passage out of rebel-held territory, as part of a reciprocal deal to evacuate two besieged pro-rebel towns, Madaya and Zabadani, on the opposite end of the country.

In the early hours of Friday morning, the U.S. struck a Syrian airbase in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack on Tuesday by Syrian government forces in the town of Khan Shaykhun.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it's still establishing the facts behind the deaths of dozens of people. Syrians on the ground have mixed feelings about what the U.S. strikes might mean for their future.

For Syrian activist Samer al-Hussein, Tuesday morning started much like any other.

"We woke up," he says, "as usual, to the sounds of warplanes that barely ever leave the skies of Idlib province."

He got word from fellow opposition activists that new strikes had targeted a nearby town, Khan Shaykhun. The 28-year-old prepared to leave his wife and sons — a toddler and a newborn — and head to the scene.

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A United Nations report says both Russian-backed Syrian forces and rebel factions committed war crimes in the besieged eastern districts of Aleppo between July 21 and Dec. 22, 2016, when the city was recaptured by the government.

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Syrian peace talks got started again in Geneva this week. One Syrian woman hopes to get an issue on the agenda - the fate of hundreds of thousands of people detained. It is a very personal issue for her, as NPR's Alison Meuse reports.

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In the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, tens of thousands of people have fled a brutal, Russian-backed regime offensive against rebel-held parts of the city. Many have fled deeper into the tightening siege, which started over the summer. Others have sought safety on the government-held side.

My conversation with a woman who recently fled the siege begins with her asking how I am. She's safe now, but is still afraid to give her name. She fears for her son — still fighting with the rebels — and for other male relatives who've been detained by the regime for questioning.

The story has been done before: A Western journalist visits the Old City, checks in at a swinging bar and churns out a dispatch about Syrians partying as the war rages on. At this moment, the world's attention is on the showdown in Aleppo. But after a string of sleepless nights preparing for a trip this week to Syria that appeared out of thin air, I was ready for a glass myself.

From the outside, the Syrian war may appear to consume every corner of the country. But inside an ancient Damascus bazaar, the war can feel very far away.

The covered Hamidiyeh bazaar has always been a place filled with treasures, and it still feels like the heartbeat of the capital, with throngs of shoppers passing through its grand, gently winding thoroughfare.

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In Syria, Russian-backed government troops have entered the ancient city of Palmyra after days of intense clashes with Islamic State militants.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, says regime troops have pushed into the southwest corner of the city. Observatory Director Rami Abdel Rahman says advances inside the city are slow, as ISIS planted mines in areas where it retreated.

State news agency SANA reports that the army took control of Mount Altar, a strategic point west of the city's famed ruins.

With the assistance of Russian airstrikes, President Bashar Assad's forces are pressing ahead with a major offensive around the northern city of Aleppo, a development that has sent another wave of Syrian civilians seeking refugee in neighboring Turkey.

Thousands took to the streets in Martyrs' Square in the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Saturday for the second week in a row to demand government accountability and solutions for a mounting garbage crisis.

Also for the second week in a row, the diehard protesters were dispersed by force. As the sun set and the families went home, a faction of protesters tried to break through barricades protecting the government palace. Police chased them down with batons, clearing the entire downtown and arresting stragglers.

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language chanted).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Foreign language chanted).

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Consider the plight of Syria's many minorities — the Christians, the Druze, the Ismailis and many others.

On one hand, they face threats by extremists like the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which considers their beliefs heretical. On the other hand, joining forces with President Bashar Assad's regime could mean dangerous military deployments and antagonizing the Sunni Muslim majority.

The U.N. Security Council is calling for immediate humanitarian access to help thousands of people trapped in the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in southern Damascus.

Yarmouk's 18,000 residents have been living under Syrian military siege for the past two years. But their situation has grown even worse over the past week, as the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, made a sudden power grab from the neighboring suburbs.