For the first time since Europe withdrew its ambassadors from Syria, European intelligence agencies met recently with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss extremists—and the move is sparking concern among Assad's opponents. The purpose of the meetings was to share information on European jihadists who are currently working with militant groups in Syria, such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated group ISIS; Europe is concerned about these extremists returning to their home countries even more radicalized—and trained. But opponents of Assad see the meetings as a sign that Western powers are resigned to the fact that Assad won't be stepping aside anytime soon, the Wall Street Journal reports.
They're also concerned that the meetings, which have also touched on the growing influence of al-Qaeda in Syria, will "lead to a broader cooperation," says one opposition member. Such an anti-terror cooperation could boost Assad's position; he has long argued that he is the best leader to fight al-Qaeda in Syria. The meetings, which started in midsummer, so far have involved Britain, Germany, France, and Spain. (The US, though not involved in these meetings, has similar concerns about extremism.) Meanwhile, the Geneva II conference will be held a week from today; the opposition is set to meet with Assad's government in an attempt to end the conflict. And as the humanitarian crisis continues, with more than 130,000 dead and 8 million displaced, the US has announced $380 million in further aid. Together with Kuwait's offer of $500 million, that's the UN's largest-ever combined humanitarian appeal, BusinessWeek reports.