Damaged buildings in the rebel-held area of Old Aleppo in Syria. Photograph: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Loss of manufacturing hub would constitute a significant reversal for government forces

Savan and Megha: His name means “seasonal rain”, a perfect match for “megha” – cloud

The marriage of Megha and Savan is steeped in ritual and spirituality

Protesters in Baghdad’s parliament building after breaching the heavily fortified Green Zone:  they demand electricity, water and an end to corruption and the ethno-sectarian regime imposed on Iraq in 2003. Photograph:  Ahmed Saad/Reuters

Analysis: The country needs to move away from politics based on religion and ethnicity

A civil defence member carries a child that survived from under the rubble at a site hit by air strikes in the insurgent-held area of Old Aleppo, Syria, on Thursday.  Photograph: Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

UN warns Syrian ceasefire ‘hangs by thread’ after heavy casualties in Aleppo attack

Syrians evacuate the area following an air strike on the rebel-held eastern Bab al-Nayrab neighbourhod of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Photograph:  Ameer Alhalbi/AFP/Getty Images

Islamic State claims responsibility for hospital suicide bombing in which 15 die

Residents wait in line to receive food aid distributed in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria: This year access has been secured to 16 of 18 besieged areas of the city and aid agencies have entered hard-to-reach locations . Photograph: United Nation Relief and Works Agency/Getty Images

Unicef and other groups in Damascus slowly win the trust of people who need their help

Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem meets with the UN peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in  Damascus on Monday ahead of the new round of talks which begin in Geneva on Wednesday. Photograph: Syrian Arab News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

Delegations to focus on political transition, governance and constitutional principles

Syrian children in the neighbourhood of Jobar,   Damascus. Photograph: Amer Almohibany/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian capital is finally at ease after years of siege, but cash is tight and corruption rife

A Syrian government forces recruit sits near a destroyed building in al-Qaryatain, a town in the province of Homs in central Syria, after Syrian troops regained control from Islamic State on April 3rd. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Islamic State has been driven out of Al-Qaryatain – a ruin ‘where nothing is left’

Rubble where Isis explosives levelled walls and most of the Roman columns of the city gate in Palmyra. Syria’s director of antiquities said: “I can give you a promise that we can finish the maximum of the work within five years.” Photographs Bryan Denton/The New York Times

While Isis did a lot of damage to heritage, reconstruction may be achieved by 2021

The remains of the Bel Temple in Palmyra, now reduced to a single arch sitting on top of a mound of whole and broken limestone blocks. Photograph: Martak/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian city has had many conquerors, but none as brutal or destructive as Islamic State

A man believed to be the hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus 320 leaves the plane  before surrendering to security forces after a seven-hour standoff at Larnaca airport, Cyprus. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Nicos Anastasiades praises police for their efforts in ensuring safety of all on board

Part of Palmyra city yesterday, after government troops recaptured the world heritage site. Photograph: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Assad’s troops also strategically in position to cut Isis capital off from Iraq

An Islamic State fighter fires a weapon in this still image taken from a video said to be taken on the outskirts of Palmyra. Photograph: Reuters

Military and financial pressures are hitting the group which has lost 20% of territory

Supporters of the Syrian opposition protest during a rally in Geneva on March 19th to commemorate the fifth year of the Syrian war. Photograph: Salvartore Di Nolfi/EPA

Coalition wants to help highly-qualified refugees fill jobs that Turks do not want

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura: tasked with finding a formula both sides can accept. Photograph: Philippe Desmazes/Getty Images

Damascus and main opposition coalition still poles apart

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura (centre) heads to a meeting with the High Negotiations Committee  during Syria peace talks at the United Nations in Geneva. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian government dismisses declaration by Kurdish Democratic Union party

The Syrian government’s head of delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari, arriving for a meeting with UN mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday. Photograph:  Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Move comes as Kurds announce plan for federal state in northern Syria

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon:  he marked the fifth anniversary of the Syrian conflict by calling for its end. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty

UN secretary general says consequences for talks’ failure ‘too frightening to contemplate’

 Russian president Vladimir Putin : Moscow has been the main political and military power broker on the Syrian scene based on the 9,000 sorties its war planes have flown against anti-government insurgents. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

Military leverage brought to Syrian battlefield disappears just as crucial talks begin

Russian president  Putin  with his  minister of foreign affairs Sergey Lavrov  in the Kremlin, Moscow. Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool/EPA

Russian maneouvre unnerves UN delegates as talks to end five-year conflict begin

UN special envoy   for Syria Staffan de Mistura:  He warned about “spoilers” such as Islamic State and  Jabhat al-Nusra  who are eager to see the talks in Geneva  fail. Photograph: Salvatore di Nolfi/EPA

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura says peace talks are the sole viable option for Syria

UN mediator for Syria Staffan de Mistura: Kurds have a right to be included in future talks. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters/Files

Role of president Bashar al-Assad is main point of contention between factions

Families  flee  fighting between Islamic State and government forces in Iraq: A  survey of the militant group’s  propaganda found  videos of children employed in combat, suicide bombings and executions, and attending training camps. Photograph: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Children being brutalised and indoctrinated in Isis ideology at training camps

A market in   an eastern rebel-held district of Aleppo: a fragile ceasefire in Syria has allowed people in the besieged city to leave their homes and shop, and visit friends and relatives. Photograph: Karam al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images

Decision eases concern about boycott of UN-mediated talks to end five-year conflict

Saad Hariri, the son of assassinated former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, is so fearful of an assassin’s bomb or bullet that he lives in Riyadh and Paris. Photograph: EPA

Riyadh cancels €3.6 billion grant for buying arms

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad agreed on Tuesday to adhere to the cessation. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian army focus shifts to Isis-held Raqqa to pre-empt US-led coalition ground operations

Russian president Vladimir Putin has pledged to do “whatever is necessary” to carry out the ceasefire and the “complicated” process of negotiating peace. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin.

Opposition representing 100 armed factions says it will observe two-week truce

A woman carrying a child injured in the triple blast in the Saida Zeinab suburb of Damascus on Sunday. The blasts  killed 90 civilians, 40 security personnel and wounded 150. Photograph: Sana via AP

Near simultaneous explosions occurred at a marketplace near three primary schools

US secretary of state John Kerry speaks during a joint news conference with Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh in Amman on Sunday. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters.

John Kerry says hostilities could end ‘in days’ as he agrees ceasefire terms with Lavrov

Druze men from the village of Buqatat carry a picture of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad during a rally in support of the Syrian regime at the weekend. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

Class resentment and drought fuelled conflict, which grew in to a proxy war

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state John Kerry  in Munich. Photograph: Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

Analysis: US co-operation means humanitarian aid can be delivered, and ceasefires may hold

Syrians fleeing the battle for control of Aleppo walk towards the Turkish border at the Bab al-Salam border gate, on February 5th. The districts held by anti-governmetn forces  in Aleppo are a prize they dare not lose. Photograph: Depo Photos via AP

Wresting control of city from various factions key to Assad’s bid for legitimacy

UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announces the suspension of peace talks in Geneva on Tuesday. Photograph: Martial Trezzin/Keystone via APi

Analysis: Blame for derailed negotiations is being passed between the powers involved

Al Zaatari  camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq. Jordan’s King Abdullah said  his people could not accept any more refugees. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

John Ging outlines humanitarian challenge ahead of London summit to raise money for Syria

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura (second from left) during Syrian peace talks. “The first, immediate objective is to ensure talks are ongoing and everyone is on board,” he said. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

UN human rights chief calls for ‘no amnesty’ for war crimes or crimes against humanity

UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura: said he is “optimistic and determined because it’s an historic occasion not to be missed.” Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Ban Ki-moon calls on all parties to put Syrian people ‘at the heart of their discussions’

Indirect peace talks aimed at resolving Syria’s five-year conflict began Friday at the UN headquarters in Geneva, without the participation of the main opposition group. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP

UN envoy chides Riyadh-based opposition for boycotting negotiations in Geneva to end war

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was told to ‘step aside’ by US president Barack Obama in 2011. Photograph: EPA

Analysis: Crisis might have been resolved in 2011 if US president had not intervened

A Syrian protester waves a national flag at a rally  in June 2011.  Five years of this conflict have been too much, says UN envoy Staffan de Mistura. Photograph: AP Photo

Long-awaited negotiations to end the five-year war in Syria begin in Geneva today

 Walid Muallem, Deputy Prime Minister of Syria:  will head the government delegation to UN-brokered peace talks. Photograph: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Council will be included at a ‘later stage’

Yacoub El Hillo, UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator  for the Syrian Arab Republic, informs the media on the humanitarian situation of Syria. Photograph: Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA

Humanitarian officials say priority must be given to the humanitarian situation in talks

UN special envoy  Staffan de Mistura  announcing at a press conference in Geneva on Monday that Syrian peace talks are to begin on Friday. Photograph:  Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Multilateral meetings in Geneva expected to last six months, with ceasefire a priority

Protesters clash with riot police in Cairo, January 2011. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP Photo

In spite of Morsi’s abuse of power in wake of the 2011 revolution, idealism still exists

US secretary of state John Kerry   with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: Asked if he was concerned that a delay might lead to a loss of momentum, Mr Kerry  said: “There is not going to be a fundamental delay.” Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP/Getty Images

Deadlock remains over Saudi demand to be sole representative of Syrian opposition

Children stand next to a burnt-outvehicle during during clases in Mosul in June 2014 between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State. The terror group’s revenues are reported to have fallen from a peak of €2 billion in that year. Photograph: Reuters

Falling oil revenues among the causes of terror group’s increasing financial distress

A Free Syrian Army fighter places a shell before firing it towards Islamic State fighters in the northern Aleppo countryside, Syria.  Aleppo’s eastern quarters are held by insurgents while Isis has a presence in the countryside east and south of the city.   Photograph: Reuters

January 25th talks with government may be postponed if no agreement reached

Expectations have been high in Tehran and western capitals over Iran’s reintegration in the global economy, with European businessmen rushing to Tehran to propose deals. Above: a man drives a motorcycle in Tehran.  Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Approval from atomic energy agency would open Iranian economy to foreign investment

UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura (left) and Iran’s deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian arrive for a meeting in Tehran. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Regional tensions cast a shadow over scheduled talks in Geneva in late January

Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince and defence minister  Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud with Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif Photograph: AFP Photo/Inter Services Public Relations

Fallout from execution of cleric goes on but defence minister does not foresee war

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has endorsed injudicious policies that could have disastrous consequences for his country and the Middle East. File photograph: Ho/AFP/Getty Images

Mass execution elicits threats of retribution from jihadis and ruptures relations with Iran

Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi Arabia embassy on Saturday amid a backlash over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Mohammad Reza Nadimi/EPA

Iran looks set to make things difficult for the kingdom after execution of Shia cleric

  Bronagh and Bob Cumbers, parents of BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers (in photo on left), shot dead in Saudi Arabia in 2004,  at their home in Navan in 2009. Photograph: Alan Betson

Irish journalist’s murderer among 47 men convicted of terrorism put to death by state

Boys exercising at Husseiniya school. Photograph: Michael Jansen

Project seen as shining example for Syria’s ‘reconciliation’ programme

Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim  at his office in  Damascus. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty

Islamic State is not the only threat to the preservation of a unique cultural legacy

Christmas holiday lights hang from trees in the ancient quarter of Bab al-Sharqi in Damascus. Photograph: Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

‘We will not let mortars push Christians out. If we leave, we leave for the cemetery’

Syrians gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Homs. Photograph: EPA/STR

Schools, shops and other businesses reopen in Syria’s third city following UN-brokered truce

A high degree of resilience: Syrians walk past a billboard in Damascus which bears the slogan: “You are the future and long live the country”. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

The capital Damascus looks a little worn but locals are masters in the art of coping

A medic treats an injured girl inside a field hospital after what activists said were air and missile strikes in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria. The New York talks are geared to find a solution and bring peace to the war-torn state. Photograph: Reuters

Assad regime wants ‘clearcut decisions’ on terrorist groups and credible opposition

Members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent help some of the 300 civilians leaving the al-Waer neighbourhood, the last area under opposition control in central Homs, Syria, on Wednesday. Photograph: EPA/Syrian Arab News Agency

First evacuations in two-month withdrawal plan hailed as victory for Damascus, Moscow

Female fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units taking a break on the front line in the northeastern Syrian city of Hassakeh. Photograph: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

Attendees of conference in Riyadh focus on ousting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad during an interview with  Sunday Times journalist Hala Jaber in Damascus on December 2nd. Photograph: EPA/Syrian Arab News Agency

Move to form united front ahead of negotiations with Syrian government scheduled for next month

An RAF Typhoon plane flies above  southern Cyprus on Thursday. Photograph: Darren Staples

Islamic State is a terrorist group that will defend its areas against all comers

An Egyptian voter shows her ink-stained finger after voting   in Cairo. Photograph: Khaled Elfiqi/EPA

Voter fatigue and bad weather blamed for low turnout in poll for 282 seats

 Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Western powers want his removal from office as part of a Syrian peace deal. Photograph: EPA/Syrian Arab News Agency

Obsessive focus on particular Middle Eastern figures has only made them stronger

Egyptians light candles as the French and Egyptian flags and France’s national colours are projected onto one of the pyramids at Giza, outside Cairo,   in tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks. The words on the pyramid read: “Solidarity with France”. Photograph:  Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

The outpouring of empathy in the West for France has caused resentment in other places

Saudi King Salman with  Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Both condemned the weekend attacks in Paris. Photograph:  Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

Kuwaiti sheikh: attacks ‘counter to all teachings of holy faith and humanitarian values’

Delicate diplomacy: John Kerry with foreign ministers from Russia, Sergei Lavrov; Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir; and Turkey, Feridun Sinirlioglu. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/Reuters

Transfer of power and role of Bashar al-Assad are key items on the agenda in Vienna

A Russian employee of a hotel teaches belly dancing to Russian tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

Job losses in tourism industry could impoverish millions of Egyptians

Migrants clamber on to a dinghy to sail for the Greek island of Chios from the western Turkish coastal town of Cesme on Wednesday. Greece and Bulgaria complain that Turkey does nothing to halt the flow into their countries of refugees. Photograph: Umit Bektas/Reuters

Using Islam as a tool in the Arab world, Erdogan is cast as a modern sultan

Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who from exile helped persuade the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. Photograph: the New York Times

Backer of regime change lost credibility when no weapons of mass destruction found

Yemenis unload food parcels provided by the Red Crescent in the southern port city of Aden. Yemenis’ ability to buy food has deteriorated. Photograph: Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images.

No deliveries for five weeks to Taiz where 240,000 civilians are in urgent need of food

US secretary of state John Kerry and Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during talks in Vienna on October 23rd on the Syrian civil war. Iran has accepted an invitation to join talks. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/New York Times

Washington accepts Assad ally must to be part of solution in war-torn country

German chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades, as European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker point to her seat during the European People’s Party congress in Madrid, on Thursday. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

President sought reunification guarantees in exchange for support on EU accession talks

A man inspects a  house  hit by what activists said was an air strike by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, in the town of Marshamsha, in the southern countryside of Idlib, Syria. Photograph: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Saudi-Turkish policy shifting in face of battlefield setbacks for extremists

Campaign meeting of the Love of Egypt party in the city of Qena. Voting is to begin on Sunday. Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Several parties founded in the wake of the 2011 uprising are boycotting the poll

A cross hangs over the street in  Beirut, Lebanon. The document says if the current exodus continues, by 2020 there could be no Christians in Iraq, where persecution is “extreme”. Photograph: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Persecution removing Christianity from biblical heartland, says Aid to the Church in Need

Relatives mourn a victim of the twin bombings in Ankara. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Attack on peace rally could be blowback for Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s support

Palestinians use slingshots to hurl stones towards Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. Photograph: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

Spate of assaults on Israelis triggers concern that yet another uprising on way

Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad: targeting of Syria shows Moscow gives priority to strengthening Damascus against near enemies rather than striking Islamic State. Photograph: Sana via Reuters

Military action by Moscow places political pressure on other players

Sisters Canan Osman (2) and  Lina (8)  at Harran refugee camp in  Turkey. Women and children make up nearly a quarter of nearly 80,000 civilians killed in the Syrian war. Photograph: Cem Turkel/EPA

British Medical Journal report says bombing and shelling most likely to cause child deaths

An ambulance evacuates victims following the crush at Mecca. Photograph: Reuters/Stringer

Revision of pilgrim event is ordered as it appears some routes were closed

Vladimir Putin’s Russian military is not only expanding its presence and role in Syria but has also agreed to set up an anti-IS operations command with Iran, Syria and Iraq

Moscow concern over IS enlistment of 2,000 radicals from Russia’s Muslim republics

Western leaders now say  Syrian president Bashar al-Assad must be involved in peace talks. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP Photo

Analysis: Western leaders know Syria president’s army is only ground force in region

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (left) giving an interview to Russian media outlets on September 15th. Russia’s recent military build-up in Syria aims to boost his embattled regime. Photograph: AFP Photo/HO/Sana

Moscow increases military force in determination to prevent collapse of Syrian state

Those arriving have injuries to their feet and ankles from walking great distances. Some have been tortured or shot. Photograph: Jörg Carstensen/AFP/Getty Images

Germany needs ‘big emergency plan’ to help refugees, says doctor in Munich

 Syrian president Bashar Assad told western governments: “If you are worried [about refugees], stop supporting terrorists.”   Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

Syrian president says West has provided financial and military backing for opponents

Woman and child on a platform in Berlin’s Schoenefeld station after emerging from a special train coming from Munich. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

‘When we reached Germany we ...understood we were entering another stage in our lives’

Residents waiting in line to receive food aid distributed in the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp, Damascus, in January 2014. Many Palestinian refugees fled the camp after it was overrun by al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra fighters. Photograph:  United Nation Relief and Works Agency via Getty Images

It took Jamil and family two months – and $30,000 – to find a new home in Germany

A migrant child from Iraq  after crossing the border from Hungary to Austria, in Nickelsdorf. Photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

Refugees are leaving behind conflict, slave labour, concentration camps and torture

Bashar al-Assad: according to Vladimir Putin, the Syrian president ‘agrees to holding parliamentary elections and establishing contacts with the so-called healthy opposition’. Photograph: EPA/SANA

Analysis: Russian leader blames Islamic State terror, not the government, for thousands of Syrian refugees in Europe

Palestinians working  on a  building  destroyed during the conflict  in the summer of last year in Gaza. Photograph:  Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Urgent action needed to lift Israeli blockade, says report

The Temple of Bel before and after the destruction at  Palmyra. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s puritan Wahhabi doctrine is the font of Islamic State beliefs

The Greco-Roman Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, which the Islamic State group targeted. Photograph: Reuters/Sandra Auger

Outer walls and columns of 2,000-year-old temple said to be still standing in spite of Sunday’s massive explosion

Al-Jazeera journalists Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed wait for the verdict. Photograph: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

International condemnation of journalists’ sentences ‘unacceptable interference’

Residents cover their noses as they walk past garbage piled up along a street in Beirut, Lebanon, on Wednesday. Photograph:  Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

Trash continues to pile up in streets of Beirut as no new landfill site has been designated

The sons of Khaled al-Asaad, the late 83-year old retired chief archaeologist of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, Omar and Mohamad, display a portrait of their father during a ceremony in his memory at the National Museum in Damascus. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

Condemnation of the murder gives Islamic State the publicity it craves

Stephen O’Brien, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, with Syrian refugees during his visit to a makeshift settlement  in Lebanon. Photograph:  Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

Violence and food shortages continue as UN warns that 13 million need aid

The ancient city of Palmyra. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Khaled al-Asaad (82) had worked on the excavation of Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old ruins

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi: The law he ratified has been criticised by the Journalists Syndicate, media workers and human rights activists, who argue that key provisions would muzzle the press.  Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Death penalty possible for those convicted of forming, financing or leading terrorist cells

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