Ruth Sherlock

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So that's a brief timeline of how we got to this moment. Let's turn now to where we may go next. I'm joined here in the studio by NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hello.

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In Syria, government forces have nearly retaken rebel-held eastern Ghouta near the capital of Damascus. It's been under bombardment by Syria and Russia for weeks. One by one now, rebel groups are making deals to leave. NPR's Ruth Sherlock reports.

Dressed in a sharp black suit, Syrian President Bashar Assad smiles for selfies with his soldiers against a backdrop of blown-out buildings and a battered tank. Weary-looking men crowd around him and chant the slogan frequently heard on this side of the country's war: "With our souls and blood, we will sacrifice ourselves for you, Bashar!"

This week, pro-regime media posted photos and videos of Assad visiting what they claimed was a town regime forces had recently captured in eastern Ghouta, an area east of the capital Damascus.

When Mohammed worked in his owner's field in Libya, bent over for hours pulling tomatoes from the soil, he would think often of the days when he was a free man.

He had lived a modern life in Zinder, Niger's second-largest city. He grew up in a good family and learned in school to speak two foreign languages — English and Arabic. "I kept thinking, I'm a human being, just like him," he says, comparing himself to a man in Libya he says enslaved him.

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Residents in parts of Syria have been experiencing some of the most terrifying days of their seven-year-long war.

This week, the Syrian government and its Russian ally pummeled towns and villages in the opposition-held northern Syrian province of Idlib with air attacks. A relentless series of payloads were dropped in the space of just a few hours in the darkness of Sunday night.

The dead are still being counted. Residents say dozens of people are missing under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

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