It must be the most beautiful front line in the world. Turn right at the ancient city of Qatna, drive east for 40 miles and you’ll come to a village called Telwared, the “Hill of Roses”. There are fields of yellow flowers, sheep and cattle and almond orchards and an old T-62 tank and then a series of largely empty, slightly sinister two-storey houses and a row of gentle hills to the south. That’s where Isis holds its ground, an ideology quite divorced from all this beauty and bright sky and sunlight.
They’re just the other side of the low mountain range to the south which stretches all the way across to Palmyra. But it’s difficult to shrug off the lethargy. Surely the old shepherd sitting with his back to the road, two cows tethered beside him, isn’t worried about the war. Can the children playing with their mother behind a red-painted house have the slightest idea why there’s a Syrian army checkpoint down the road at Jibl Jarrah, the very last bit of territory before the forward troops of the shrinking Isis caliphate?