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Dear Deeply Readers,

The kidnapping of Razan Zeitouneh this week was a shock and blow to what’s left of the original Syrian uprising. Zeitouneh is a human rights lawyer and civil society leader, a founder of the Local Coordination Committees and the Violation Documentation Center. But Razan’s importance to the Syria story is less about who she is and more about what she represents – the bloc of mostly young and moderate Syrian voices calling for greater social and political freedom. Fellow activists referred to her as “my Mandela.”  
“Her abduction is a setback for the civil movement,” Assaad al-Achi told Time Magazine. “It signals a move toward complete radicalization and confrontation between two evil forces: the regime and the Islamic fanatics.” 

One look at the battlefield shows a similar squeeze  on the Syrian center – moderate rebels eclipsed by better-armed, better-trained Islamist forces. It’s a trend that has unfolded over time, but this week marked the denouement: the flight of General Selim Idris, commander of the Free Syrian Army. He was run out of his headquarters and forced to flee Syria by the newly formed Islamic Front, as it seized the headquarters and warehouses of Idris’ Supreme Military Command. In a show of their might, the Islamic Front, believed to be a Saudi-backed alliance of Salafi groups (open in their calls for religious rule over Syria) successfully seized the Turkish-Syrian border crossing of Bab al-Hawa.
In the wake of the moderate rebel defeat, Washington suspended its formal nonlethal aid to the Free Syrian Army. That curbs what help the U.S. was giving the moderate side. While the Free Syrian Army weakens, the regime’s army is making gains, with a special push to take the strategic Qalamoun area north of Damascus.
Activists who once stood behind the Free Syrian Army in opposing President Bashar al Assad are now reconsidering their stance, as TIME Magazine reports. Those activists have been effectively spooked by “equally oppressive Islamist radicals determined to turn Syria into an Islamic caliphate.” Cautionary tales abound, as in this week’s case of jihadists in Saraqeb, who executed a man for blasphemy. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the offender had made an offhand remark when questioned about the quality of diluted petrol on the market – he responded saying, “how should I know? What am I, the God of fuel?'

As of this week. 17 children have been paralyzed by polio in Syria – the UN is taking on a mass vaccination campaign to curb the outbreak. Winter storms have snowed in already desperate refugees, struggling to keep their children warm in drafty tents, in record cold and snowfall. One rebel commander reportedly froze to death.   

Highlights from Syria Deeply: 
Could al-Qaida’s Extreme Tactics Backfire?
Syria Deeply Asks: What is the State of Syria’s Opposition Ahead of Geneva Talks?
State of the Battle: ISIS Detonates Suicide Car Bombs in Qamishli
State of the Regime: Two Major Offensives, Oil Fields in Rebel Hands
Rooting for the Rebels, From Inside Assad’s Camp
Homeless Syrians in Southern Turkey Wait for Relocation
Syria’s New Working Women Challenge Gender Stereotypes
Conversations: Cross Border Relief Worker
Reflections of a Revolutionary, Imprisoned by Al-Qaida

Headlines from the Week: 
Monday: Regime Secures Damascus-Homs HighwayChemical Watchdog Warns of Syria DelaySyria Opposition Leader to Visit Russia
TuesdaySyrian Army Puts Pressure on Yabroud ; U.N. To Airlift Aid to Syria From IraqLavrov to Iran for Syria Talks
Wednesday: Islamists Seize Turkey Border CrossingWinter Storm Hits RefugeesLawyer Razan Zeitouneh Kidnapped 
Thursday: Top Western-Backed Rebel Flees SyriaSnowstorm Brings New Misery to Syria RefugeesIran, Saudi Among 30 Countries Invited to Syria Peace Talks
Friday: U.N. Confirms Syria Chemical Weapon Use Islamist Wave Driving Out Syria's RevolutionariesEU Failing Refugees, Says Amnesty Report

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