Earlier this year, the Syrian Foreign Minister made the dramatic announcement that - following European criticism of the crackdown on opposition protests - Syria would remove Europe from their maps of the world. Within hours, enterprising traders in the souq were carrying brand new stock of T-shirts - a map of the world, with a great big gap between Russia and the Atlantic. But this very Syrian, very entrepreneurial joke covers a colder reality. As the unrest continues into its tenth month, Syria finds itself increasingly isolated from all but a handful of other countries. The international contacts, dialogues, exchanges, which had begun to flourish in the arts as in other fields in the last few years, are now withering away.
The frantic call from the lookout comes at 6am: a few hundred members of the security forces and the dreaded shabiha militia, dressed in black, wielding guns and clubs, are marching towards the safe house in which we are hiding. They are raiding homes, looking for defected soldiers, opposition activists and anyone who's been at a protest. That means nearly half the town of Madaya. And we happen to be with three of the most wanted men in Syria.