Territorial divisions are deepening, regardless of regime and rebel advances
ZIAD, Ammar and Zakaria are all Syrian, but 29 months into a civil war their once-similar home towns now look as if they belong to three different countries. Ziad is from Tartus, a north-western port city covered in posters showing President Bashar Assad. Ammar’s home town in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor is run by rebels. In Zakaria’s birthplace in the north-east, schoolchildren learn Kurdish, banned until recently, rather than Arabic, the national language.
Syria is gradually breaking into three. The forces of Mr Assad recently seized the initiative but they cannot defeat the opposition and instead are consolidating their grip on the western spine of the country. From Damascus and Homs to Hama and Latakia, the regime is carving out a coastal state. Meanwhile, the rebels are doing the same in the Euphrates valley stretching from Turkey to Iraq through open desert. On July 22nd they took over Khan al-Asal, a town close to Aleppo, a divided northern city. As extreme Islamists among the rebels gain in strength, rumours abound that al-Qaeda-related groups will declare a religious state. Already, they fly black flags above mini-emirates.