By Nicholas EvansThe Wall Street TimesMay 20, 2018 8:23:38When the Russian-backed Syrian opposition forces launched a campaign to retake territory in northern Syria in September, they faced a daunting challenge: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other militant groups in Syria and Iraq.
The forces were also facing a powerful Iranian-backed military alliance that had come to the fore during the Syrian conflict.
For the first time, Moscow and Tehran have acknowledged their strategic interest in a new phase of the conflict, one that will pit them against the United States, Russia’s closest regional ally and NATO member, which has deployed forces to support the opposition in a bid to prevent a return to the bloody civil war that began in 2011.
But the prospect of a return has been the subject of heated debate in Syria.
Many of the rebel groups that Russia has backed have declared allegiance to ISIL, while others say they are independent and fight for the same causes as the Syrian government.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, this has been a crucial strategic advantage in the fight against ISIL and the Assad regime, and his strategy has played out in Moscow’s favor, as it has pushed back against American efforts to build a global coalition to defeat the group.
But for many in the Syrian opposition, it has been an existential challenge, as they have seen their own aspirations for self-determination taken away from them.
The Druze, the minority sect of Christians who make up around a third of the Syrian population, have been one of the few groups to defy the Syrian regime and its supporters, and the Russian military has been one its closest allies.
They have been the most visible symbol of the rebels’ defiance, their faces on billboards and in videos posted online.
They are considered the most important group to the rebels.
As the conflict has intensified, the Druzes have felt the brunt of Russian airstrikes, and have seen the loss of their traditional role as protectors of religious minorities in the country.
They also have seen a spike in sectarian violence, with the group losing territory to rival Sunni Muslim groups and the Syrian army, which they see as an enemy.
Since its formation in 2011, the opposition has suffered from sectarian divisions, with Assad and the regime seeking to maintain a monopoly on power, and Russian-led airstrikes have caused the worst damage.
The Druze have been among the most vulnerable, with more than half the population fleeing the country in recent years, according to the United Nations.
The Druzes, who made up the largest ethnic group in Syria, have had a tough time finding work since the civil war began.
They were forced to leave their homes to seek work in Damascus, where many were forced into forced labor, often working for as little as $2 a day.
Many were forced back to their homes as a result of the war, and thousands have since fled to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and other countries.
Despite the loss, many in Syria remain optimistic about their future, with many seeing the Syrian war as a way to bring a new era of democracy and human rights.
“I want to go back and I hope the Druys can return.
I believe they can,” said Naser Hamed, who has lived in Aleppo since fleeing to Turkey in 2012, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
But for the Druzed, the return of the regime will be a nightmare.
Hamed, a 35-year-old former engineer who fled his hometown to escape the civil conflict, said he has seen the collapse of the economy and unemployment among the Druzas, who are also the poorest people in Syria today.
He said the government has been working hard to control the economy to prevent the economic crisis from spreading further.
It is a war in which the Syrian people are dying, he said, adding that many of them are unable to afford medical care or food, and that they have lost hope in the prospects of a new generation.
While some of the Druza families in eastern Aleppo have taken to smuggling into Europe, many others are fleeing because of the government’s crackdown on the Syrian civil war.
“This war is not over, and it is not going to end soon,” Hamed said.
“I am going to return and I am going back to my family and to my people.
They will not forgive me for going back.”