DAY 683 - JANUARY 22, 2013
Syrian Rebels capture Mayadin, a regime army base outside of Deir Ez Zor, which confirms that most of the city is now under opposition control. In an attempt to lure FSA forces out of hiding, cellphone and internet reception across Syria becomes spotty, pressuring rebels to communicate via landline, a method that is traceable by the Assad's government. Islamist faction Jabhat Al Nusra is declared a terrorist organization by the United States and embattled Syrian President Bashar Al Assad begins deploying Scud missiles, thereby continuing to escalate the conflict. On average more than 100 people are dying everyday in Syria and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that over 45,000 people have been killed in the country since the start of the conflict in March 2011.
Snow is falling in the Ancient City of Aleppo, bringing the fighting to a brief but much needed halt. In a strange turn of events an American fighting for the FSA turns up in the possession of Jabhat Al Nusra. At first Sheikh Yousef and the other commanders believe that this American, Eric Harroun, is a spy trying to infiltrate the Islamic brigades. But after spending some time with him, you realize that he is too reckless and unintelligent to hide any ulterior motive. He simply wants to shoot people with guns. Food is running at a premier in the city as many of the bakeries do not have the resources to make bread. Aleppo is becoming increasingly fragmented with different factions and brigades on both sides. For the first time you are introduced to the Ba'ath Brigades, a group of Sunni Muslim volunteers who support Assad's regime. This makes you wonder if your father was one of them. It makes sense now. Your house was deep in government territory and it was a rebel RPG not a government air strike that killed the rest of your family. When the FSA stormed Hanano, perhaps he just pretended to be a prisoner so as not to be publicly executed like so many others. Perhaps he was, in fact, guarding Hanano from people like Al Nusra. This makes you think about how arbitrary it is which side you fight on. Ultimately it is just about killing in order to feel better about those who have already died. You think about how the soldiers in Al Nusra Front could easily be your enemies on the other side of the front lines. You're thinking about that as you cross the Castello checkpoint in Sheikh Maksud when you feel the tires pop underneath your technical pickup truck where you sit next to Jalal Al Din in the front seat. Suddenly a group of ten or so men jump the truck as the snow falls slowly in Aleppo. They hold their Kalashnikovs at you, through the windows, and demand you get out of the car. They aren't regime soldiers, though... They are just thugs, guys in masks, but you can't get the pistol in the glove compartment in time, nor would you know how to use it, and now you're truck is without tires on the slick slush of the road.