Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Wintery weather has caused a lot of disruptions here in the US this week. But imagine dealing with that in the middle of a war. It snowed today in northern Syria and neighboring Lebanon - bad news for both displaced civilians and rebel fighters. But worse news for the rebels today is the suspension of aid from the US and UK. That after Islamic militants raided a warehouse where non-lethal aid from the United States was being stored. The militants made off with the supplies intended for the more moderate Syrian opposition. The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Damascus. What's been the reaction there, Lyse, to this news of the suspension of US and UK non-lethal aid?
Lyse Doucet: What I can say is it's a very smug reaction because this has been their narrative from even before there were Islamist groups operating in Syria. They have been saying that they have been fighting, in their words, against armed groups and terrorists. And they have been warning about the rising threat of Islamist groups, including the foreign Jihadis, saying that they pose a threat not just to Syria but to the many many countries from which they come and to which someday they will return. So I think this is just confirmed the Syria authorities in their view that ultimately they still believe, and a senior official here very close to Assad, said they're going to come round to us. They are going to turn course, they just have to find a way to do it. To come back with us to fight together against what they see is the global threat of terrorism in which Syria is now a principal target.
Marco Werman: Should anyone be surprised that this Islamic front took over warehouses where US vehicles and phones and other materials were stored. I mean, it seems like it was just something waiting to happen.
Lyse Doucet: There has been a general perception confirmed what we know is happening on the ground in areas controlled by the opposition, that it is the Islamist forces that are prevailing. They're better armed, they're better organized, they're more disciplined, and the formation of the Islamic front a few weeks ago was seen as a highly significant development bringing together six or seven of the prominent Islamist groups. Although not including the al-Qaeda linked groups. And it is this Islamic front that basically overran both the bases and warehouses of the free Syrian army in northwestern Syria. And that was what set off alarm bells for the United States and for Britain that the warehouses contained what they described as non-lethal equipment, that is communications equipment, medical kits, body armor, all the kind of equipment short of arms, that they had been providing to the opposition, the moderate opposition, as they call it. Now, western embassies are saying that this is temporary, it's just a suspension of aid. But it begs the question, when will the free Syrian army be strong enough to take back those bases and warehouses having lost them. This could be a decisive moment because, of course, we all know that the free Syrian army has been complaining bitterly about their lack of Western support. We had reports at one time that they were refusing the eat the MRE, their ready to eat meals, because they said it was an insult. And now that the so called non-lethal aid has been suspended, it then raises the question, what kind of support are they getting from the western countries who talk about support to the moderate opposition and claiming that it will be a force to reckon with. In the future Syria, there is a growing reality that the forces to be reckoned with are President Assad's forces and the Islamist forces.
Marco Werman: So, Lyse, winter is closing in now. It's snowing, actually, in the region. I just saw this heartbreaking picture of homes in Syria, a completely shell shocked city now under snow. Really eerie. What's the atmosphere like in Damascus right now?
Lyse Doucet: Well, heartbreaking, if you can be more heartbroken then you have been before this snow came. You know, i looked at those pictures today of the blanket of snow covering, as you say, these shells of houses and homes. I've walked through those neighborhoods, those ghost towns, where not a single building is left unmarked by the shrapnel, the bulletholes, by the aerial bombardments. Nothing lives in those areas, and now they have a pretty blanket of snow on top. It is very eerie, but it's also deeply tragic because now Syria has two curses - the war, the continuing war, and the weather. Mother Nature is visiting and we're expecting one of the worst winters in years. And as I speak to you in Damascus there - we are expecting the snow to fall here soon. We had heavy rain in some of the suburbs of Damascus which are besieged, they have been besieged for months, which means food and medical supplies has not been given - getting in. There are reports of people starving. It's just another blow to a country which is already reeling under a growing humanitarian crisis.
Marco Werman: Lyse, it's always great to speak with you.
Lyse Doucet: Thank you, Marco.
Marco Werman: The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Damascus. If possible, here's more bad news for the Syrian opposition. Activist and human rights lawyer, Razan Zaitouneh has reportedly been kidnapped. She was apparently abducted along with her husband and two colleagues from her office outside Damascus. Amr Al-Azm knows Razan Zaitouneh. He's a professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio and a member of the Syria opposition.
Amr Al-Azm: She was the one who was still having held on to the idea of peaceful protest and trying to bring about peaceful change. There's very few of those hardy people left given the situation on the ground in Syria today. Most people like Razan have already left. In fact, many of her own compatriots have either left or have been put in prison by the regime or have been killed. And Razan is one of those last few that are out there and still trying to do great work. And still trying to show that activism, in the midst of all this carnage, is still possible and viable.
Marco Werman: Is it clear, Amr, who kidnapped her?
Amr Al-Azm: What we do know is that she was taken from an area under the control of one Razan Aloush(?), a member of the Islamic Front and very powerful in that area. And we know that, and we believe that, it was in this area that is under his control that she was taken from. We also know that there have been serious differences between her and his group, essentially over who controls and how the area is managed, with Razan, obviously, bringing in her civil activism and civil society movement. And, so, it's very possible that it was, in fact very likely, that's what I hear from our people on the ground, that it's very likely that it was Razan's people who took her.
Marco Werman: I mean she is also one of these rare remaining members of those early, peaceful demonstrations. Could it have been engineered by President Bashar al-Assad?
Amr Al-Azm: Of course, I mean it could have been and she's been high up on his wanted list for quite some time, so it's very possible. But the area she was taken from is, you know, technically under opposition control and, as i said, the information that we have now currently points to Za-haran alush(?) and his, you know, Soufish(?) group who are all part of this larger Islamic Front that was recently formed. And we think that she - because we know that there have been disagreements between them - public disagreements - and conflict over control over the area of that hota(?). And we know that the people of the hota, the people in that area, this has caused a big, big problem with the locals and people are now very angry and upset at this. She's very, very popular with the locals because of her activism, because of her- because she was actually working with people on the ground, trying to help better their lives, improve their lives rather than what everyone else is doing, which is fighting.
Marco Werman: I mean, she seems like a really courageous person. She was under ground, nobody knew where she was hiding. But she was in Damascus. And then when those allegations that we know now of chemical weapons happened outside of Damascus she went out there to report. I mean, what kind of person is she?
Amr Al-Azm: You know, she's an incredibly brave woman. Consider this is a woman living under the most extreme and extenuating circumstances and where many of us, including close colleagues of hers, have all left or could take no more, if you want, or found the position untenable. She has persisted and stayed on despite the dangers that she faces everyday. This is a very rare woman and I think it will be - if something were to happen to her, it would be great blow to the opposition, it would be a great blow for syrid, it would be a great blow for the revolution.
Marco Werman: Amr Al-Azm speaking to us from Shawnee State University in Portsmouth Ohio. Thank you.
Amr Al-Azm: Thank you.