Alice Fordham

In the heart of Beirut, architect Mona El Hallak herds a group of students together outside a monumental mansion — a vast, elegant building whose yellow walls and graceful pillars are ravaged by thousands of bullet holes.

"We are," she shouts over the cacophonous traffic, "at the intersection of Damascus Road and Independence Avenue."

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The war against ISIS is entering a tough new phase, as Iraqi fighters with growing U.S. assistance push into western Mosul, warns the senior American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend.

"ISIS is a brutal, brutal enemy," said Townsend, speaking in Erbil as Iraq's security forces were about to attack Mosul's airport with help from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

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Now we're going to hear perspective from some of the Syrian citizens newly banned from entering the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees live in neighboring Lebanon, where NPR's Alice Fordham has their reaction to the news.

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OK, let's turn now to the latest in Syria where a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey is in place - well, at least in theory. Rebels say President Bashar al-Assad's forces are violating that cease fire, and NPR's Alice Fordham tells us where.

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For a month, Iraqi forces have been pressing an offensive against ISIS in the city of Mosul. As NPR's Alice Fordham reports, one elite group is bearing much of that burden.

The Karamlesh village meeting begins the traditional way, with Christian prayers led by a priest, murmured and sung, lingering in the evening air.

But the meeting's not in the actual village of Karamlesh. It's 40 miles away in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, on red plastic chairs under a dust-yellow sky, next to the corrugated trailers some of these people have been living in since 2014 when the Islamic State took their village.

Hassan Shami camp, about 15 miles east of Mosul, is pristine, the gravel spotless, the rows of tents still white and mostly empty.

There aren't yet the crowds of children, piles of garish mattresses, makeshift bathtubs, half-eaten bowls of rice and beans that have become familiar sights at Iraq's many camps for about 2 million people now displaced by the fight against the Islamic State.

That is likely to change, and soon.

The Iraqi military and its allies have been pushing for a week toward the city of Mosul, held by the Islamic State. For people fleeing the fighting, a few thousand so far, it's been an unbelievably frightening seven days.

In the Debaga camp for displaced people, about 50 miles southeast of Mosul, which is becoming more crowded, I sit with a family who tell me about leaving the village where they lived under ISIS more than two years.

In the sunlit courtyard of a mosque, overlooked by jagged mountains, dozens of men arrive to offer condolences to the family of Brigadier Hamid Birmous.

The commander with the Iraqi Kurdish forces known as peshmerga was killed in action by an ISIS bomb during the operation to retake the city of Mosul, which began this week. Iraqi security forces continue to fight their way through villages and countryside outside the city.

For two weeks, a battle has raged in Aleppo, generating tragic images of injured civilians amid the rubble.

The city — once Syria's most populous and a commercial hub — is a key prize in the civil war. For four years, it has been divided between government and rebel forces and was in effect a military stalemate.

Russia is among the supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while the U.S. supports rebel forces. They were talking to try to find a way to calm the violence in Syria, but the negotiations collapsed this week.

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