But while there is progress in the chemical cleanup, the war around them is getting steadily worse. More than ever, the battlefield isa mess of rival rebel groups, fighting the regime and each other.Al-Qaida-linked groups are advancing in some partsof the north, while theCIA ramps up covert training for moderate rebels. All around, foreign extremists have come to dominate the fight. –  The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele wrote about the lethal deadlock of Syria’s war, from one of the battleground neighborhoods of Damascus.

“By some estimates, given that large tracts of the north and east are in opposition hands, the government controls only a third of Syria. But as long as it is in charge of Damascus and the coastal strip there is no chance of collapse, mass defections or implosion,” he wrote.

“Some analysts claim Assad is winning the military war. That is wrong. The battlefield is deadlocked and will remain so as long as the rebels continue getting arms.”  Steele also makes the point that thanks to Russia’s Syria policy and the growing global fears of jihad in Syria, Assad is winning the political war, ensuring his political survival and continued hold on what’s left of state power.

Analysts say Syria must unite to fight al-Qaida – that’s hard to do when some 6.8 million people are running short of food. Humanitarian suffering is not just the fallout of war; it’s become a weapon for population control, through an apparent strategy of accelerating human misery in rebel-held areas.  Those hoping to heal the pain of ordinary Syrians now have to prepare for the long haul, and for a brutal winter ahead.