Alice Fordham

A small group of U.S.-trained Syrian fighters entered northern Syria late last month and waited for their mission. They were on a base, with American supplies that included heavy machine guns, communications technology and laser pointers for directing airstrikes.

These fighters are, in effect, the elite members of a much bigger rebel group called Division 30. Their mission is to fight the self-declared Islamic State, though there are multiple factions involved in the Syrian civil war.

Beirut is usually one of the pleasanter places in the Middle East — a bright, cosmopolitan city squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and a green ridge of mountains. But for the past two weeks or so, the stench from mounds of festering garbage has filled its gaudy streets.

"The trash is climbing up, the mountain is getting higher and higher," says one immaculately dressed, middle-aged woman with a perfect bouffant, wrinkling her nose. She wouldn't give her name because she criticizes powerful people — Lebanon's politicians, whom she holds responsible for the garbage crisis.

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Tunisia was in shock after at least 38 foreign tourists were killed Friday at a beachside hotel, apparently by one man: Saifeddine Rezgui, who was in turn killed by police.

Amid the horror, there was defiance in the air in the seaside town of Sousse. Hundreds of foreign tourists decided to stay, and were out on the beaches. And local residents held a patriotic demonstration, waving the red national flag and chanting about unity in a palm-fringed square.

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The black flag of the self-proclaimed Islamic State is flying over the Iraqi city of Ramadi after government forces collapsed and the extremists seized control over the weekend.

Thousands of civilians have fled Ramadi and those left behind face a chaotic situation.

"No food, no fuel, no electricity. It's very difficult there," says Sheikh Hekmat Suleiman, an adviser to the governor of Anbar Province. Ramadi is the provincial capital, and the local government has now fled the city, just 70 miles west of Baghdad.

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Iran says a general in the country's elite Revolutionary Guard was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Syria on Sunday that also killed several ranking members of Hezbollah.

Though these aren't the first Iranians or Hezbollah fighters to be killed in Syria, this incident stands out because these men were on the Syrian Golan Heights, within 10 miles of Israel's northeastern border.

We've been hearing a lot about cartoons for all the wrong reasons recently: the horrifying attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the divisive images, the threat of extremism. But one man in Jordan has been using comic book superheroes to try to bridge the divide and curb extremism.

His name is Suleiman Bakhit, and at a bar in Jordan's capital, Amman, he cracks open his laptop to show off some heroes. The artwork is sophisticated, vivid and influenced by Japanese comics.

In Jordan, the talk these days centers on the fate of the Jordanian pilot who was captured by the self-styled Islamic State after his plane crashed in Syria on Christmas Eve.

Little is known about the condition of Moath al-Kasasbeh since the extremists tweeted pictures of him, bloody and bewildered, after the crash.

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