Children play in Damascus, November 6, 2013.
Bassam Khabieh / Courtesy Reuters

There is reason for pessimism about this week’s conference in Geneva on the Syrian civil war. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has shown that he cannot be dislodged through force, and the rebels insist that they have no interest in any plan that does not involve his immediate departure from office. Meanwhile, the country has been ripped apart by violence, around a third of the population has fled home, and, before the United Nations stopped counting in July, at least 100,000 people had died.

There is still a chance for some kind of normalcy, though. In recent months, local efforts to

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