An urban-rural divide also defines the Syrian conflict: Assad largely still has control over the cities, while outlying areas are fraying or fully in rebel hands. The notable exception is Aleppo, where rebels claim control of 75 percent of the city. Syria's largest city has been the scene of brutal urban warfare as the rebels try to expand their control - as a result, much of its cultural heritage has been destroyed and its residents have been alienated from both the regime and the revolution. We've heard the voice of Syrians who complain that the rebels pushed in too soon, before they could secure the city. Meanwhile, some residents in the regime-held neighborhoods are clinging to Assad's forces as their protectors.
The Syrian conflict appears in the press as one big war -- but in reality, it is a multitude of smaller conflicts scattered across the country. Multiple pots are boiling over: Fighting rages from the alleyways to Aleppo to the suburbs of Damascus to the distant eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
Though it's rarely covered, the northwestern governorate of Latakia, which was once a regime stronghold, has become a battleground state. Its sizable Sunni and Alawite communities are locked in a showdown: Rebel commanders have taken control of Jebel Akrad and Jebel Turkman, the northern areas bordering Turkey, and tell us they are moving toward a full-on siege of Latakia city. Their stated intent: to avoid any coherent Alawite state that could split off if Assad loses Damascus and the rest of the country.
In the north, meanwhile, there are the first stirrings of Free Syria -- areas completely beyond the regime's reach. In Idlib province, Assad forces pulled back to the provincial capital and left the countryside without any government beyond what the opposition can provide. Further north, Kurdish areas like Qamishli, Kobani, and Amuda are functionally autonomous.
Homs, meanwhile, is a city divided and under siege. In neighborhoods such as Khalidiya, Jouret al-Shayah and Baba Amr, Syrians face continued shelling and violent clashes. In the rest of the city, the Syrian Army enforces relative calm -- but residents often live in extreme poverty, reporting shortages of the basics: heat, electricity, water and gas. One resident told us that the population of the district of al-Waer has jumped from 150,000 people to 450,000, as displaced crowds flee the fighting. By one Homsi's estimate, in regime-held areas "around 40 percent of the people are still with the regime...60 percent are against, but they live in fear."
In Damascus, the regime is making a push to take back the rebel-held suburbs that form a semi-circle around the city's perimeter. But meanwhile, fighting inside the city chips away at its control. "There are more checkpoints, more closed streets around the city. Damascus looks like an Army barrack," one resident told us.
All of this has pushed human suffering beyond what's bearable. Parents have to ration their children to a few precious pieces of bread. Heating and power have failed in much of the country during this cold winter. Syrians' life savings are threadbare, and banks have periodically stopped handing out pensions and salaries.
Syria's humanitarian decline is not only heartbreaking -- it risks contributing to the deterioration of law and order throughout the country.
"My fear is that we will move from a crisis to overthrow the regime to a new crisis, extending civil war and chaos," said Michel Kilo, a famed Syrian dissident who answered our questions over Skype.
"Syria is destroyed ... much of the people are homeless, hungry, or displaced, and this atmosphere will encourage chaos," he said.