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Mystery solved: John Kerry really ate turkey shwarma

John Kerry may have met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process on Thursday, but what's really gotten commentators worked up is the contents of the shwarma he consumed during an impromptu snack in Ramallah. Reputable sources such as the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times have reported that the secretary of state's sandwich was stuffed with turkey. But for many with ties to or interest in the region (including myself), the news made absolutely no sense. It would be one thing if Kerry had gobbled down chicken or lamb. But whoever heard of turkey shwarma? 

Saudi journalist Ahmed Al Omran expressed this very sentiment in his response to the bewilderment of FP's own David Kenner:

 

Others were downright outraged at the very notion of turkey in shwarma:

 

 

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg floated one theory about the confusion:

 

 

Meanwhile The Angry Arab implored the world to get to the bottom of the nagging mystery:

 

 

FP was happy to oblige. In the interest of putting the speculation to rest once and for all -- so that we can all move on to more pressing matters -- we called Samer restaurant, where Kerry ate his shwarma, to find out just what was in the secretary's sandwich.

"Chicken," said Samer, the proprietor, who seemed rather amused about the whole situation.

Excited to have stumbled upon this piece of intel, I pressed Samer to confirm that the shwarma was not in fact turkey. "Oh, yes. It was turkey," he amended. "Not chicken?" I asked. "No, turkey. We have lamb and we have turkey. He ate the turkey and really enjoyed it."

According to Samer, turkey shwarma is not uncommon in the West Bank -- though Palestinians often refer to it as chicken, which explains the confusion during our conversation. "There are people who use chicken and people who use turkey," he told me. "But people like turkey more." 

John Kerry, it seems, agrees.

State Department/Flickr

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Is Assad really winning?

After two years of crowing that the end of Bashar al-Assad was nigh, the official and popular perceptions in the United States and Europe of the Syrian president's staying power have shifted dramatically. There's a new narrative taking hold, fueled by both media reports and assessments by Western intelligence agencies -- that the Assad regime is largely stable, and making significant gains against the rebels throughout the country.

Not so fast. While the regime has made progress on a few fronts, its actual territorial gains are so far rather minor. And in other parts of the country, it's the rebels who are still on the offensive. The Syrian war isn't turning into a regime rout -- the stalemate is only deepening.

In northern Syria, the rebels continue to make slow progress against the remaining Syrian military outposts. The "Youth Camp," one of the few remaining Syrian military strongholds in Idlib province, fell this week -- in this video, Syrian rebels can be seen storming the area. As the New York Times' C. J. Chivers noted recently, the Youth Camp and another Assad stronghold at a nearby brick factory mutually supported each other from rebel attack. With the loss of the Youth Camp, the brick factory will no doubt come under greater pressure. In Aleppo, meanwhile, Syrian rebels kept up their assault on the central prison, employing mortar shelling and car bombs.

The most active front where Assad is on the offensive is Qusayr, where rebel forces are defending the western city from a joint assault by Hezbollah and Syrian military forces. The battle has dragged on for six days, despite early regime claims of a quick victory, with Hezbollah suffering significant losses in the conflict. Given the balance of forces, Qusayr will likely eventually fall to Assad. But despite being regularly described in the press as "strategic" -- much like every other contested town in Syria has been -- it is not the only opposition hub for weapons flowing from Lebanon, and its strategic benefits went largely unremarked during the more than a year it was under the control of the opposition.

Elsewhere, Assad's victories have largely consisted of preventing the rebels from making progress. He appears to have gained a stronger grip over the suburbs ringing Damascus, preventing the rebels from launching an offensive on the capital, and halted rebel gains in the south by capturing the southern town of Khirbet Ghazaleh.

Assad also has a numbers problem. As this valuable article from the Washington Post's Liz Sly makes clear, his gains have largely been achieved through mobilizing some 60,000 militiamen drawn primarily from the Alawite sect, to which Assad belongs. The short-term benefits of that strategy are obvious -- but by increasing the sectarian nature of this struggle, Assad endangers his remaining Sunni support, which has been so vital to his family's dynasty since his father seized power in 1970. By relying solely on minority groups -- even with Hezbollah support -- it is unclear how the Syrian regime has the manpower to reclaim the large swathes of territory it has lost in the north and the east.

None of this is to say that the old conventional wisdom -- that Assad's fall was just around the corner -- was right all along. However, the narrative that the Syrian regime is making sweeping gains across the country is just as wrongheaded. What we are really witnessing is the beginning of a bloody conflict that, if the world does nothing to stop it, could continue for years on end.

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images