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D ragging on his American-brand cigarette, Rami al-Khatib leans back and looks away. There is a wry smile but it hints at a bubbling frustration. I have asked him whether he feels optimistic about the future. From behind a wisp of smoke, Khatib, 29, a law student at Damascus university before the conflict, adds: Khatib was born in the now infamous city of Palmyra, where Isis massacred hundreds and where Vladimir Putin last week emphasised his role in winning it back for the regime by staging a classical concert in its ruins.
Brought up in Homs, Khatib helped with the evacuation and watched as snipers picked off women walking through the rubble. He still has family in the city. His year-old sister had been told by an Islamist fighter that she and her father would be lashed the next time he saw her. Khatib has been told his friendly sniper is dead now, too.
Meanwhile the political and military situation is dire. Isis holds huge swaths of land in the east of the country, while the regime, with the help of Russian air power, is advancing from the west and through the middle, swirling around the key opposition stronghold, Aleppo, along with the loosely pro-regime Kurds.
They are all eating into opposition territory, which in itself is controlled by armed groups ranging from the moderate Free Syrian Army to the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, and every flavour of Islamism in between. It is a bloody, unfathomable mess. And the ceasefire that brought a little respite has now broken. Yet Khatib, quick to smile, and keen to talk to about the wonder of Palmyra before the war, does, miraculously, hold out some hope. Khatib is one of 26 people, including 18 Syrians, working in the south-eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, 30 miles from the Syrian border, on a British-government- funded development programme called Tamkeen , the Arabic word for empowerment.
A further 76 Syrians working for the programme live in Syria itself, in 38 communities across four opposition-held provinces: Idlib and Aleppo in the north-west, and the southern areas of Deraa and Rif Damascus, the province that hosts the capital city, and where opposition-held parts are currently under siege from the Assad regime.