Day 1,215: The choice is between a mass-murdering dictator and mutilation-happy jihadists


A Syrian resident grasps a mattress amid rubble following a reported overnight air strike by government forces on July 14, 2014 in the al-Firdous neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo.


Baraa al-Halabi

Today is Day 1,215 of the Syrian conflict. Deir al-Zor is the latest Syrian city to become a symbol of the wider dynamics of the fight. AFP reported via the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights this morning that the Islamic State (previously known as ISIS or ISIL) had seized the rebel-held half of the city, kicking out rival rebel groups. Now half of the city is held by Assad forces and half held by the Islamic State.

In other words, half of the city is under a regime that very probably gassed its own people and has no problem torturing children. The other half is under a group whose members reportedly slaughtered an entire family in Zanuba by shooting several in their sleep and burning the remaining alive. They have also, infamously, stuck dead bodies on crosses. Attorney General Eric Holder over the weekend talked about his "extreme concern" over the Islamic State's gains, calling Syrian jihadists' suspected work on undetectable explosives "more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general." He said he considers it "just a matter of time before they start looking ... at the West and at the United States in paticular."

Unsurprisingly, the Assad regime is seeking to paint itself as the lesser of two evils in Syria. On Sunday, The Guardian published the writeup of an interview with Syria's vice foreign minister, who insisted that the government will "eliminate" the Islamic state, and according to reporter Ian Black, "urged western countries to recognize 'new realities' by joining the battle against terrorism and ending their support for rebels trying to overthrow ... Assad."

The minister, Faisal Mekdad, also dismissed accusations that Assad has been passive against the group —even aiding it — as a way of getting rid of moderate rebels and presenting himself as the country's protector, standing against the fanatics.

In other news, while both sides prepare for a showdown in Aleppo, we may also get a showdown in the UN over aid delivery. The Syrian government has not been very helpful in ensuring the safe delivery of supplies, and some parties in the Security Council want to make it legal to send in aid without waiting for Syrian government consent. Russia doesn't like the language in the proposed resolution. For the full report, head over to the New York Times.

A quick recap of recent border spillover: Sunday evening another mortar shell from Syria hit Israeli territory in the Golan Heights, to which Israel responded by firing missiles at Syrian military targets. Also on Sunday, Syrian rebels attempting to cross into Lebanon clashed with Lebanese Hezbollah militants, resulting in seven Hezbollah deaths, 17 rebel deaths, and many wounded on both sides. The fighting ended Monday morning with Hezbollah victory. 

The conflict continues.