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Middle East

In central Damascus, it's perfectly clear that President Bashar Assad is firmly in control. In the souks of the Old City, his face looks out of almost every shop window, pinned up next to gold jewelry or intricate rugs. No one has a bad word to say about him, at least not to a Western journalist.

In rebel enclaves nearby, forces loyal to Assad are creeping back into control. After years of siege tactics, opposition forces in the suburbs of Damascus are increasingly making deals that see their fighters heading into rebel-held areas.

When the last remaining hospital in besieged eastern Aleppo crumbled under a wave of artillery strikes on Nov. 18, one of the casualties was 25-year-old nurse Kefah.

"The last time he called me was one night before he was killed," says Dr. A.M. — an intensive care specialist based in Detroit who, for the past four years, has been providing training and support via Skype and WhatsApp to medical staff in Aleppo. He asked that we only use his initials because the Syrian government has persecuted doctors — and their families — for treating rebels.

Foreign journalists' access to Syria is severely restricted, but this week, the regime of Bashar Assad extended an unusual invitation to a group of Western reporters to visit Damascus, the capital. NPR's Peter Kenyon and Alison Meuse are among the foreign journalists who've been granted visas to Damascus this week. For Kenyon, it's the first time back since 2008, before the 2011 uprising that led to Syria's war. He spoke with Morning Edition host Renee Montagne about the visit.

Fadi al-Asmi has learned to adjust his Syrian pastries to American tastes at the City Steam Brewery café in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. "America, chocolate!" he says, as he adjusts his baseball cap and serves his latest chocolate-encrusted confection.

It's not the only thing he's learned since he and his family were catapulted into a new life after arriving as refugees in May.

Phil Roeder / Creative Commons

It’s almost election day and voting demographics have changed dramatically since our last presidential election. The number of eligible Hispanic voters has jumped 17 percent since 2012 according to the Pew Research Center.

This hour, we talk about the Latino vote here in Connecticut and nationwide.

Refugees from around the world continue to find homes in Massachusetts.

The number of Syrian refugees, in particular, has more than doubled here over the last year, despite heated national rhetoric around immigration.

Increased Interest Greets New Refugees

In the basement of the First United Baptist Church in Lowell, newly arrived refugees from Syria and Afghanistan stand shoulder to shoulder with new arrivals from Somalia.

ISIS fighters launched attacks on police Friday in the city of Kirkuk, as Iraqi security forces continued a massive military offensive to try to pry Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities, from the militant group.

"The fighters struck [Kirkuk] before dawn, with suicide bombers hitting four police stations and gunmen killing police," NPR's Alice Fordham reports from Irbil, Iraq, though the number of casualties wasn't immediately clear. "A curfew is imposed in Kirkuk, but eyewitnesses say fighting continues."

The battle for the ISIS-held city of Mosul, now in its second day, is expected to drag on for weeks or months. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces approach the city, aid groups in the region are preparing for a humanitarian crisis.

Fighting has lulled in some areas, but is continuing in others, and airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition continue, NPR's Alice Fordham reports from Kalak, Iraq.

"The Iraqi army is fighting its way toward the city from the south: a spokesman said they are facing resistance but moving," Alice says.

An attack on a funeral hall killed 90 people and wounded more than 560 in Sanaa Saturday, Yemen's rebel government says. The Saudi-led coalition has promised to conduct an immediate investigation into the airstrikes.

"We're mobilizing to support health facilities deal with the influx of dead and wounded," the Red Cross delegation in Yemen says, adding that it's sending 300 body bags and medical supplies to help cope with the violence's effects.

The last surviving leader of Israel's founding generation, Shimon Peres was a three-time prime minister, the architect of the country's secretive nuclear program and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed the U.S. for the collapse of a fragile cease-fire earlier this week and denied carrying out well-documented human rights abuses, such as besieging civilians or using chemical weapons against them.

At least five emergency medical workers were said to have been killed in airstrikes near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, following the collapse of a fragile cease-fire in Syria.

The Syrian military announced Monday it is no longer observing a cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia to allow food and medicine into besieged areas.

Seven days after the agreement was reached by Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the U.S., which backs anti-Assad rebels, the regime blamed the truce's collapse on the rebels, and unilaterally declared that the cease-fire is over.

NPR's Alice Fordham reports this about the cease-fire:

For nearly eight years, President Obama has been putting his stamp on U.S. foreign policy both by what he's done and by what he chosen not to do.

His legacy includes achievements like the international climate agreement.

It also includes festering problems like the Syrian civil war.

Obama is summing up that legacy himself Tuesday, as he addresses the United Nations General Assembly for what's likely to be the last time as president.

Four days after Secretary of State John Kerry announced — with many notes of caution — a new U.S.-Russia deal on a cease-fire in Syria, he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that it is the best option, and one to which the U.S. remains committed.

"What's the alternative?" he asks. Without the deal, he suggests, there would be even more deaths in a conflict that already has killed nearly 500,000 people.

A Syrian cease-fire went into effect at sundown on Monday, at approximately 11:45 a.m. EDT.

Just hours before the start of the planned cease-fire, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced on state media that he plans to "reclaim every area from the terrorists," The Associated Press reports. Assad's government had earlier indicated it would abide by the negotiated truce.

Gunmen attacked the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on Wednesday evening, as students and staff hunkered down in place or fled for their lives, witnesses say.

Hospital officials say at least one student was killed and at least 14 injured, as Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, tells our Newscast unit.

"Right now there are dozens of Afghan police, security forces, special forces. They've surrounded the campus," Glasse says. Here's more:

Surrounded by shouting, he's completely silent.

The child is small, alone, covered in blood and dust, dropped in the back of an ambulance with his feet dangling off the edge of a too-big chair.

He doesn't cry or speak. His face is stunned and dazed, but not surprised. He wipes his hand over his wounded face, looks at the blood, wipes it off on the chair.

"ISIL has not had a major successful offensive operation in either Syria or Iraq in a full year," President Obama said Thursday in comments assessing U.S. efforts against the extremist group.

Two years ago, "to many observers, ISIL looked invincible," he said. But now: "ISIL turns out not to be invincible. They're, in fact, inevitably going to be defeated."

President Obama dismissed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's comment this week that the election may be "rigged" this year.

Screenshot / White House

President Barack Obama is assessing what's working and what's not in the fight against the Islamic State group as the U.S. military ramps up its engagement in Libya. 

The Pentagon says U.S. warplanes began attacking Islamic State targets in Libya today at the request of the U.N.-backed Libyan government. The airstrikes are in the city of Sirte, which is controlled by ISIS.

American aircraft destroyed a tank and two ISIS vehicles that the Pentagon says posed a threat to Libyan fighters trying to retake the city.

Turkey's justice minister says that some 6,000 people have been detained following a failed coup attempt.

That includes some 3,000 military personnel detained in bases around the country, as NPR's Leila Fadel tells Weekend Edition Sunday.

According to Turkey's foreign ministry, the incident killed at least 290 people — more than 100 people involved in the attempted coup, and 190 other citizens. At least 1400 people were wounded.

Updated at 10:00 am:

A coup attempt by factions in the Turkish military crumbled Saturday as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his way to Istanbul and his government began reestablishing control after a long night of widespread violence.

"The people have taken to the streets and voiced their support for democracy," the acting head of the military, Gen. Umit Dundar, said at a news conference Saturday. "The nation will never forget this betrayal."

World Affairs Council of Connecticut.

On July 14, 2015, Iran agreed to a nuclear deal with the U.S and other world powers that would keep the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Since that time, the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran has complied with initial requirements to reduce its stockpile of uranium. In return the U.S. and the international community have eased many economic sanctions that have stifled Iran for years. But critics say there’s no guarantee that Iran will maintain the agreement long term and they question what happens 15 years from now when the deal expires. 

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