(Syria Direct) – As Syrian government forces wreaked a devastating five-year siege and fired air strikes and artillery shells on Rateb Abu Yasser’s hometown northeast of Damascus, the 32-year-old nevertheless found time for his friends. “We’d get together at night and play cards,” he recalls. Abu Yasser’s group of nine friends, men in their 20s and 30s, would light up arghileh water pipes and spend hours talking politics and current events.