"The hard edges of Syria's frontlines – dogmatic, revolutionary, Islamist or pure murderously sectarian – almost melt away outside the oilfields. New lines emerge pitting tribesmen against battalions, Islamists against everyone else, and creating sometimes surreal lines of engagement, where rebels help maintain government oil supplies in return for their villages being spared from bombardment and being allowed to siphon oil for themselves."
A northern wind had been blowing since early morning, lifting a veil of dust that had blocked the sun and turned the sky the colour of ash. Abu Zayed was sitting on the porch of his unfinished concrete home, watching the storm build. He loved sandstorms. They reminded him of Dubai, where he had lived before the war. He admired the people there for turning a desert into a paradise. They had vision, he told his followers.
Six months ago, he left the Gulf emirate to join the Syrian revolution, attending opposition conferences in Istanbul and Cairo, jostling for position on behalf of his father, the leading sheikh of a powerful tribe in eastern Syria.
But Abu Zayed soon became disgusted with the bickering among the rebel leadership. "There is an opposition council in every hotel lobby in Istanbul," he said. "You can't distinguish them from the regime."