Ruth Sherlock

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So that's a brief timeline of how we got to this moment. Let's turn now to where we may go next. I'm joined here in the studio by NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Hey, Tom.


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In Syria, government forces have nearly retaken rebel-held eastern Ghouta near the capital of Damascus. It's been under bombardment by Syria and Russia for weeks. One by one now, rebel groups are making deals to leave. NPR's Ruth Sherlock reports.

Dressed in a sharp black suit, Syrian President Bashar Assad smiles for selfies with his soldiers against a backdrop of blown-out buildings and a battered tank. Weary-looking men crowd around him and chant the slogan frequently heard on this side of the country's war: "With our souls and blood, we will sacrifice ourselves for you, Bashar!"

This week, pro-regime media posted photos and videos of Assad visiting what they claimed was a town regime forces had recently captured in eastern Ghouta, an area east of the capital Damascus.

When Mohammed worked in his owner's field in Libya, bent over for hours pulling tomatoes from the soil, he would think often of the days when he was a free man.

He had lived a modern life in Zinder, Niger's second-largest city. He grew up in a good family and learned in school to speak two foreign languages — English and Arabic. "I kept thinking, I'm a human being, just like him," he says, comparing himself to a man in Libya he says enslaved him.

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Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


Residents in parts of Syria have been experiencing some of the most terrifying days of their seven-year-long war.

This week, the Syrian government and its Russian ally pummeled towns and villages in the opposition-held northern Syrian province of Idlib with air attacks. A relentless series of payloads were dropped in the space of just a few hours in the darkness of Sunday night.

The dead are still being counted. Residents say dozens of people are missing under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

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In downtown Tunis, Hosni Kalaya watches from the sidelines as Tunisians celebrate the seventh anniversary of the country's revolution. A wide-brimmed baseball cap keeps in shadow his face, badly disfigured by burn scars.

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After almost seven years, some half a million people killed and a recent string of victories by the Syrian military, there's a sense the Syrian war may be coming to a close.

Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, declared last month its mission accomplished and announced a partial pullout of its troops. Syrian state television now regularly broadcasts footage celebrating its military commanders as national heroes.

And investors from around the world speak in increasingly excited terms about that most lucrative phase of war: reconstruction.

On a bright, beautiful October day, Lebanese fisherman Emilio Eid is in his boat on the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon's scenic mountain ranges are clear in the distance.

But the water around him is brown and littered with pieces of floating plastic. He spots bottles, a toothbrush, a used condom. An acrid smell burns his eyes and throat.

"Garbage, garbage, garbage," Eid says, and turns to look toward the coast.