Syrian civil war
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|Syrian civil war|
|Part of the Arab Spring|
Demonstration in Idlib
| Syrian Arab Republic
Economic and military support:
| Syrian opposition
Economic and military support:
|Commanders and leaders|
| Bashar al-Assad
President of Syria
Wael Nader al-Halqi
| Abdulbaset Sieda
Syrian National Council (SNC) Chairman
Abu Muhammad al-Julani
|Syrian Armed Forces: 304,000 (at peak)||40,000–60,000 fighters|
|Casualties and losses|
|Syrian security forces||Syrian rebels and protesters|
|23,337–23,442 Syrians killed overall (opposition claims)**
265 foreign civilians (see here) and 2 Turkish F4 Phantom pilots killed
1.5 million displaced and refugees
|*Number possibly higher due to the opposition counting rebels that were not defectors as civilians.
**Numbers do not include foreign combatants from both sides or Shabiha militiamen who have been killed.
The Syrian civil war, also referred to as the Syrian uprising, is an ongoing internal armed political conflict in Syria. The conflict began on 15 March 2011 with public demonstrations as part of the wider Arab Spring and developed into a nationwide uprising, and a civil war in 2012. Protesters have demanded the end to nearly five decades of Ba’ath Party rule, as well as the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.
In the spring of 2011, the Syrian government deployed the Syrian Army to quell the uprising. Several cities have been besieged, and soldiers were reportedly ordered to open fire on civilians. According to witnesses, soldiers who refused to open fire on civilians were summarily executed by the Syrian Army. Civilians and army defectors began forming fighting units, and unified under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, fighting in an increasingly organized fashion; however, the civilian component of the armed opposition lacks an organized leadership. The Syrian government characterizes the insurgency as "armed terrorist groups".
According to various sources, including the United Nations, up to 23,335–30,850 people have been killed, of which about half were civilians, but also including 11,930 armed combatants consisting of both the Syrian army and rebel forces and up to 1,840 opposition protesters. According to the UN, about 1.5 million Syrians have been displaced within the country. To escape the violence, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled the country to neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Iraq has closed its border to Syrian refugees, while no Syrian refugees have yet arrived at the Israeli border. In addition, tens of thousands of protesters have been imprisoned, and there have been reports of widespread torture in the government's prisons. International organizations have also accused the government and Shabiha of using civilians as human shields, of intentionally targeting civilians and of adopting a scorched earth policy. Anti-government rebels have been accused of human rights abuses as well, including torture, kidnapping, unlawful detention and execution of civilians, Shabiha, and soldiers. HRW also expressed concern at the kidnapping of Iranian nationals. The UN Commission of Inquiry has also documented abuses of this nature, and also has documentation that indicates rebel forces have been responsible for displacement of civilians.
The Arab League, United States, European Union, GCC states and other countries have condemned the use of violence against the protesters. China and Russia have opposed attempts to agree to a UN resolution condemning Assad's actions, and advised against sanctions, saying that such methods could escalate into foreign intervention. The Arab League suspended Syria's membership over the government's response to the crisis, but sent an observer mission in December 2011, as part of its proposal for peaceful resolution of the crisis. A further attempt to resolve the crisis has been made through the appointment of Kofi Annan as a special envoy. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had repeatedly stated that the Syrian conflict could emerge into an "all-out civil war".
On 15 July 2012 the International Committee of the Red Cross assessed the Syrian conflict as a "non-international armed conflict" (the ICRC's legal term for civil war), thus applying the international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions in Syria.
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Syria became an independent republic in 1946. In March 1949, democratic rule was overturned by an American-supported coup. Two more military coups took place that same year. A popular uprising against military rule in 1954 catalyzed a mutiny that saw the army transfer power to civilians. Free elections resulted in Shukri al-Quwatli, who had been the President at the time of the March 1949 coup, to be elected to that post in 1955. A brief union with Egypt in 1958 resulted in Syria's parliamentary system being replaced by a highly centralized presidential system. The union ended in 1961 with Syria's secession. A 1963 military coup d'état brought the Ba'ath Party to power, and was followed by another coup in 1966 which overthrew the traditional leaders of the party; Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar. In 1970, then Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad seized power and declared himself President, a position he would hold until his death in 2000. Since then, the Ba'ath Party has remained the sole authority in Syria, and Syrian citizens may only approve the President by referendum and do not hold multi-party elections for the legislature. In 1982, at the height of a six-year Islamist insurgency throughout the country, Assad conducted a scorched earth policy against the town of Hama to quell an uprising by the Sunni Islamist community, including the Muslim Brotherhood and others. This became known as the Hama massacre, which left tens of thousands dead.
The issue of Hafez al-Assad's succession prompted the 1999 Latakia protests, when violent protests and armed clashes erupted following 1998 People's Assembly's Elections. The violent events were an explosion of a long-running feud between Hafez al-Assad and his younger brother Rifaat. Two people were killed in fire exchanges between Syrian police and Rifaat's supporters during a police crack-down on Rifaat's port compound in Latakia. According to opposition sources, denied by the government, the protests resulted in hundreds of dead and injured. Hafez al-Assad died one year later, from pulmonary fibrosis. He was succeeded by his son Bashar al-Assad, who was appointed after a constitutional amendment lowered the age requirement for President from 40 to his age of 34.
Bashar al-Assad, who speaks fluent English and whose wife is British-born, initially inspired hopes for reform; a "Damascus Spring" of intense political and social debate took place from July 2000 to August 2001. The period was characterized by the emergence of numerous political forums or salons where groups of like minded people met in private houses to debate political and social issues. Political activists such as Riad Seif, Haitham al-Maleh, Kamal al-Labwani, Riyad al-Turk and Aref Dalila were important in mobilizing the movement. The most famous of the forums were the Riad Seif Forum and the Jamal al-Atassi Forum. The Damascus Spring ended in August 2001 with the arrest and imprisonment of ten leading activists who had called for democratic elections and a campaign of civil disobedience. Renewed opposition activity occurred in October 2005 when activist Michel Kilo collaborated with other leading opposition figures to launch the Damascus Declaration, which criticized the Syrian government as "authoritarian, totalitarian and cliquish" and called for democratic reform.
Several riots prompted increased tension in Syria's Kurdish areas since 2004. That year, riots broke out against the government in the northeastern city of Qamishli. During a chaotic soccer match, some people raised Kurdish flags, and the match turned into a political conflict. In a brutal reaction by Syrian police and clashes between Kurdish and Arab groups, at least 30 people were killed, with some claims indicating a casualty count of about 100 people. Occasional clashes between Kurdish protesters and security forces have since continued.
The al-Assad family comes from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that comprises an estimated 12 percent of the Syrian population. It has maintained tight control on Syria's security services, generating resentment among some Sunni Muslims, a sect that makes up about three quarters of Syria's population. Minority Kurds have also protested and complained. Bashar al-Assad initially asserted that his state was immune from the kinds of mass protests that took place in Egypt. Bouthaina Shaaban, a presidential adviser, blamed Sunni clerics and preachers for inciting Sunnis to revolt, such as Qatar-based Yusuf al-Qaradawi in a sermon in Doha on 25 March. According to The New York Times, the Syrian government has relied "almost exclusively" on Alawite-dominated units of the security services to fight the uprising. His younger brother Maher al-Assad commands the army's Fourth Armored Division, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, was the deputy minister of defense.
Socio-economic complaints have been reported, such as a deterioration in the country's standard of living, a reduction of state support for the poor resulting from the gradual transition towards a free market economy, the erosion of subsidies for basic goods and agriculture, free trade without suitable support to the local industry, and particularly high youth unemployment rates.
The state of human rights in Syria has long been the subject of harsh criticism from global organizations. The country was under emergency rule from 1963 until 2011, effectively granting security forces sweeping powers of arrest and detention. The Syrian government has justified this by pointing to the fact that the country has been in a continuous state of war with Israel. After taking power in 1970, Hafez al-Assad quickly purged the government of any political adversaries and asserted his control over all aspects of Syrian society. He developed an elaborate cult of personality and violently repressed any opposition, most notoriously in the 1982 Hama Massacre. After his death in 2000 and the succession of his son Bashar al-Assad to the Presidency, it was hoped that the Syrian government would make concessions toward the development of a more liberal society; this period became known as the Damascus Spring. However, al-Assad is widely regarded to have been unsuccessful in implementing democratic change, with a 2010 report from Human Rights Watch stating that he had failed to improve the state of human rights since taking power ten years prior. All other political parties have remained banned, thereby making Syria a one-party state without free elections.
Rights of expression, association and assembly are strictly controlled in Syria. The authorities harass and imprison human rights activists and other critics of the government, who are oftentimes indefinitely detained and tortured in poor prison conditions. While al-Assad permitted radio stations to play Western pop music, websites such as Amazon, Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube were blocked until 1 January 2011, when all citizens were permitted to sign up for high speed Internet, and those sites were allowed. However, a 2007 law requires Internet cafes to record all comments that users post on online chat forums.
In an interview published 31 January 2011, al-Assad declared it was time to reform, that the protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen indicated a "new era" was coming to the Middle East, and that Arab rulers needed to do more to accommodate their peoples' rising political and economic aspirations.
Women and ethnic minorities have faced discrimination in the public sector. Thousands of Syrian Kurds were denied citizenship in 1962, and their descendants continued to be labeled as "foreigners" until 2011, when 120,000 out of roughly 200,000 stateless Kurds were granted citizenship on 6 April. Because the government is dominated by the Alawite sect, it has had to make some gestures toward the majority Sunni sects and other minority populations in order to retain power.
Uprising and civil war
Beginnings of protests
Before the uprising began in mid-March, protests were relatively modest in Syria, considering the wave of unrest that was spreading across the Arab world. Syria remained what Al Jazeera described in a report a “kingdom of silence,” due to strict security measures, a relatively popular president, religious diversity, and concerns over the prospects of insurgency like that seen in neighboring Iraq.
The events began on 26 January 2011, when Hasan Ali Akleh from Al-Hasakah poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire, in the same way Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi had in Tunis on 17 December 2010. According to eyewitnesses, the action was "a protest against the Syrian government". Two days later, on 28 January 2011, an evening demonstration was held in Ar-Raqqah to protest the killing of two soldiers of Kurdish descent.
On 3 February, a "Day of Rage" was called for in Syria from 4-5 February on social media websites Facebook and Twitter; however, protests failed to materialize within the country itself. Hundreds marched in Al-Hasakah, but Syrian security forces dispersed the protest and arrested dozens of demonstrators. A protest in late February at the Libyan Embassy in Damascus to demonstrate against the government of Muammar Gaddafi, facing his own major protests in Libya, was met with brutal beatings from Syrian police moving to disperse the demonstration against a friendly regime.
On 6 March young boys were arrested in the city of Daraa for writing the slogan "the people want to overthrow the regime," on walls across the city. The following day 13 political prisoners went on a hunger strike protesting "political detentions and oppression," in their country demanding the implementation of civil and political rights. Three days later dozens of Syrian Kurds started their own hunger strike in solidarity with these other strikers. During this time, Ribal al-Assad, a government critic, said that it was almost time for Syria to be the next domino in the burgeoning Arab Spring.
Revolt and escalating protests
The protests, unrest and confrontations began in earnest on 15 March, when the protest movement began to escalate, as simultaneous demonstrations took place in major cities across Syria. In Damascus, a crowd of 150 was heard chanting “The revolution has started!”
On 16 March, some 200 people gathered in front of the Interior Ministry, calling for the release of political prisoners. Thousands of protesters gathered in al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, and Hama. There were some clashes with security, according to reports from dissident groups. In Damascus, a smaller group of 200 men grew spontaneously to about 1,500 men. Damascus has not seen such uprising since the 1980s.
These events lead to a “Friday of Dignity” on 18 March, when large-scale protests broke out in several cities, including Banias, Damascus, al-Hassake, Daraa, Deir al-Zor and Hama. Police responded to the protests with tear gas, water canonons, beatings and even live ammunition. At least 6 people were killed and many others injured.Over the next few days the security forces broke up a silent gathering in Marjeh square in Damascus. The protest saw to 150 people holding up pictures of their family and friends who were imprisoned by the regime. Security forces also shot people dead in Daraa. This incident led to thousands taking to the streets calling for democracy. The security crackdown on these protesters led to several more days of protests and even more civilians shot dead by the security forces.
Increasingly, the city of Daraa became the focal point for the growing uprising, with large demonstrations day after day. This city has been straining under the influx of internal refugees who were forced to leave their northeastern lands due to a drought which was exacerbated by the government's lack of provision. Over 100,000 people reportedly marched in Daraa on 25 March, but at least 20 protesters were reportedly killed. Protests also spread to other Syrian cities, including Homs, Hama, Baniyas, Jassem, Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia. Over 70 protesters in total were reported dead.
Arrests and torture
Even before the uprising began, the Syrian government conducted numerous arrests of protestors, political activists and human rights campaigners, many of whom were labeled "terrorists" by al-Assad. In early Februrary, authorities arrested several activists, including businessman Ghassan al-Najar, leader of the Islamic Democratic movement, the writer Ali al-Abdallah, Abbas Abbas, from the Syrian Communist Party and several other political personalities of Kurdish background, such as Adnan Mustafa.
The police often responded to the protests violently, not only using water cannons and tear gas, but also beating protesters and firing live ammunition.
As the uprising began, the Syrian government waged a campaign of arrests that had caught tens of thousands of people, according to lawyers and activists in Syria and human rights groups. In response to the uprising, Syrian law had been changed to allow the police and any of the nation’s 18 security forces to detain a suspect for eight days without a warrant. After that, they need one, a requirement, some activists say, is routinely ignored even though it can be easily arranged. Arrests have focused on two groups: political activists, and men and boys from the towns that the Syrian Army has besieged or has retaken from the armed opposition.
Many of those detained experienced various forms of torture and ill-treatment. Many detainees were cramped in tight rooms and were given limited resources, and some were beaten, electrically jolted, or debilitated. At least 27 torture centers, run by Syrian intelligence agencies were revealed by Human Rights Watch on 3 July 2012.
Some of the prisoners were also subject to humiliation by anti-Islamist officers. One man who was detained for more than a month said that prisoners were often forced to kiss photographs of Mr. Assad or say that “There is no God but Bashar,” a riff on the Muslim declaration of belief “There is no god but God.” He also said they were forbidden to pray and were subjected to taunts against God and the Prophet Muhammad.
On 15 February, Syrian state television announced that the government would hold a referendum on a new constitution on 26 February, in an attempt to end the conflict. One of the amendments in the draft would replace the old article 8, which entrenches the power of the Ba'ath party, with a new article reading: The state's political system is based on political pluralism and power is practiced democratically through voting. Syrians voted in favour of the new constitution on 26 February. Parliamentary elections were held in May after the ratification of the new constitution. After the elections, Mohammad Jihad al-Laham was elected as the new Syrian speaker of parliament.
On 16 February, government critic and director of the Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria (ODFS) Ribal al-Assad, son of Rifaat al-Assad and cousin to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, held a press conference in London, in which he made it clear that he "does not want to see a Syrian revolution, but a peaceful change of power". In a 5 April interview, Ribal al-Assad warned of Syria's risk for a civil war.
Starting in mid-March, the first signs were seen that the government was willing to make concessions to the protesters. On 19 March 2011 by legislative decree 35, Assad shortened the length of mandatory army conscription from 21 months to 18 months. On 20 March, the Syrian government announced that it would release 15 children who had been arrested on 6 March for writing pro-democracy graffiti.
On 23 March, by regional decree 120, Faisal Ahmad Kolthoum was removed as Governor of Daraa. On 24 March, Assad's media adviser, Buthaina Shaaban, said that the government will be "studying the possibility of lifting the emergency law and licensing political parties". The Syrian government also announced a cut in personal taxation rates, an increase in public sector salaries of 1,500 Syrian pounds ($32.60 US) a month and pledges to increase press freedom, create more employment opportunities, and reduce corruption.
On 27 March, al-Assad announced the release of as many as 200 political prisoners. An Assad adviser said the emergency law would be lifted, and Assad accepted the official resignation of the government led by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari.
The government, dominated by the Alawite sect, also made some concessions to the majority Sunni and some minority populations in April. On 6 April, it was reported that teachers would once again be allowed to wear the niqab, and that the government had closed the country's only casino. Of the 200,000 descendants of Syrian Kurds denied citizenship in 1962, 120,000 who were labeled "foreigners" were granted citizenship.
On 19 April, a bill was approved by the Syrian government to lift the emergency law. Two days later, Assad signed legislative decree 50 into law, together with decrees abolishing the Supreme State Security Court and regulating the right to peaceful demonstration. On 30 April, Prime Minister Adel Safar announced a comprehensive plan for reforms in the coming weeks in three areas: political reform, security and judicial reform; economic reform and social policies; and the development of administration and governmental work.
In April 2011, just days after lifting the country’s decades-old state of emergency, Assad set off the first of what became a series of withering crackdowns, sending tanks into restive cities as security forces opened fire on demonstrators. In retrospect, the attacks appeared calculated to turn peaceful protests violent, to justify an escalation of force.
During April, the uprising became more extensive, and more violent. Protesters were shot at on 1 April, leading to at least 10 deaths. Well over 30 people were killed in a crackdown on protests on 8 April, activists and human rights groups claimed. Tens of thousands of protesters were prevented from entering Damascus from Douma on 15 April, though this restriction did not prevent widespread protests in many Syrian cities. Other cities where protesting was particularly strong were in Daraa, Baniyas, Al-Qamishli and Homs. There were also protests in Douma and Harasta, suburbs of Damascus. Firing throughout the country resulted 88 deaths among security forces and protesters, making it the bloodiest day so far. Tanks and soldiers entered Daraa and Douma and the border with Jordan was also closed. According to an activist, 18 people were killed in Daraa. On 29 April, more than 60 protesters were killed in demonstrations across Syria. The United States responded with harsh sanctions against the Syrian government.
Human rights violations
The "vast majority" of human rights violations, including the international crimes, documented have been committed by the Syrian armed and security forces and their allied militia.:4:1:10:20 Some violations are so serious, deliberate and systematic as to constitute crimes against humanity:7:18–20:5 and war crimes.:7 Human Rights Watch accused the Assad government of creating an "archipelago of torture centers".:1 The key role in the repression, and particularly torture, is played by the mukhabarat: the Department of Military Intelligence, the Political Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, and the Air Force Intelligence Directorate.:9:1, 35
In October, Amnesty International published a report showing that at least 30 Syrian dissidents living in Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, faced intimidation by Syrian embassy officials, and that in some cases, their relatives in Syria were harassed, detained and tortured. Syrian embassy officials in London and Washington, D.C. were alleged to have taken photographs and videos of local Syrian dissidents and sent them to Syrian authorities, who then retaliated against their families.
With regard to armed opposition groups, the UN accused them of: unlawful killing; torture and ill-treatment; kidnapping and hostage taking; and the use of children in dangerous non-combat roles.:4–5
Censorship of events
Since demonstrators began calling for Assad's ouster in March, the regime has imposed a blackout on independent news coverage, barring foreign reporters from entering and reporting freely, and detaining and attacking local journalists who try to cover protests. Numerous journalists have gone missing or been detained without charge, and many said they were tortured in custody. International media have relied heavily on footage shot by citizen journalists in very dangerous conditions. Several journalists had been killed on duty. In its campaign to silence media coverage, the government disabled mobile phones, landlines, electricity, and the Internet. Authorities have routinely extracted passwords of social media sites from journalists through beatings and torture. The pro-government online group the Syrian Electronic Army has frequently hacked websites to post pro-regime material, and the government has been implicated in malware attacks targeted at those reporting on the crisis.
In August 2011, Syrian security forces attacked the country's best-known political cartoonist, Ali Farzat, a noted critic of Syria's government and its crackdown. Relatives of the severely beaten humorist told Western media that the attackers threatened to break Farzat's bones as a warning to stop drawing cartoons of government officials, particularly Assad. Farzat, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, was hospitalized with fractures in both hands and blunt force trauma to the head. Also, government loyalists have been blamed for cutting the vocal chords of poets and other censorship crimes of this nature.
Protests and military sieges
As protests continued, the Syrian government used tanks and snipers to force people off the streets. Water and electricity were shut off in the city of Daraa, and security forces began confiscating flour and food. A similar situation was reported in Homs. In May, the Syrian army entered the cities of Baniyas, Hama, Homs, Talkalakh, Latakia, the Al-Midan and Douma districts of Damascus, and several other towns.
Baniyas was besieged in early May, and divided into zones of de facto control, with protesters largely controlling the south and security forces enforcing the laws of the government in the north. Major demonstrations saw nearly 20 deaths on 6 May, and the government said 11 soldiers were shot by "armed groups" on the same day. The violent suppression of protests in Homs, Daraa, and other rebellious cities continued throughout the month. A 17 May report of claims by refugees coming from Telkalakh on the Lebanese border indicated that sectarian attacks may have been occurring. Sunni refugees said that uniformed Alawite Shabiha militiamen were killing Sunnis in the town of Telkalakh. The reporter also stated that according to arms dealers, "sales of black market weapons in Lebanon have skyrocketed in recent weeks driven almost entirely by demand in Syria."
Early June, the Syrian government said more than 20 Syrian demonstrators were shot dead at the Golan Heights by Israeli forces, when trying to cross the cease-fire line during Naksa Day demonstrations. This was perceived by Israelis as a way for the Syrian government to divert attention from the Syrian unrest by allowing demonstrators to reach all the way to the Golan Heights. The army also besieged the northern cities of Jisr ash-Shugur and Maarat al-Numaan near the Turkish border. The Syrian Army claimed the towns were the site of mass graves of Syrian security personnel killed during the uprising and justified the attacks as operations to rid the region of "armed gangs", though local residents claimed the dead Syrian troops and officers were executed for refusing to fire on protesters. The siege of Daraa continued in the meantime, with a French journalist reporting famine-like conditions in the town. On 20 June, in a speech lasting nearly an hour, in response to the demands of protesters and foreign pressure, Assad promised a "national dialogue" involving movement toward reform, new parliamentary elections, and greater freedoms. He also urged refugees to return home from Turkey, while assuring them amnesty and blaming all unrest on a small number of "saboteurs". The speech received mixed reactions domestically and abroad and was largely dismissed by protesters. On 30 June, large protests erupted against the Assad government in Aleppo (Syria's second largest city) which were labeled the "Aleppo volcano".
In mid-July, pro-government protesters attacked the US and French embassies in Damascus, responding to those countries' support for the opposition. Attacks on protests continued throughout July, with government forces repeatedly firing at protesters and employing tanks against demonstrations, as well as conducting arrests. On 31 July, a siege of Hama escalated during a so-called "Ramadan Massacre", in which at least 136 people were killed and hundreds wounded when Syrian forces attacked demonstrators across the country, employing tanks, artillery and snipers. Most of the deaths occurred in Hama.
Formation of the Free Syrian Army
On 29 July, a group of defected officers announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which would become the main opposition army. Composed of defected Syrian Armed Forces personnel and civilian volunteers, the rebel army seeks to remove Bashar al-Assad and his government from power. This began a new phase in the conflict, with more armed resistance against the government crackdown. The FSA would grow in size, to about 20,000 by December, and to an estimated 40,000 by June 2012.
On 23 August, a coalition of anti-government groups was formed, the Syrian National Council. The opposition, including the FSA, remained a fractious collection of political groups, longtime exiles, grass-roots organizers and armed militants, divided along ideological, ethnic or sectarian lines.
Syrian forces continued to bombard Hama in early August 2011, along with attacks in other cities and towns. On the first full weekend of Ramadan, the Arab League and several Gulf Cooperation Council member states led by Saudi Arabia broke their silence on the events in Syria to condemn the government's response. Throughout August, Syrian forces stormed major urban centers and outlying regions, and continued to attack protests.
On 14 August, fighting in Latakia continued as the Syrian Navy became involved in the military crackdown. Gunboats fired heavy machine guns at waterfront districts in Latakia as ground troops and security agents backed by armor stormed several neighborhoods. Up to 28 people were killed. Eight more civilians were killed elsewhere in the country. Throughout the next few days, the Siege of Latakia dragged on, with government forces and shabiha militia continuing to fire on civilians in the city, as well as throughout the country over the following days. On 30 August, during the first day of Eid ul-Fitr, thousands of people demonstrated in Homs, Daraa, and suburbs of Damascus. Nine people were killed when security forces fired on these demonstrations. Eid celebrations in the country were reportedly muted, with people trying to visit the graves of their loved ones being killed. Protests continued into the following months, with security forces and militia continuing to fire at demonstrators and raid towns and neighborhoods across the country.
Six months into the uprising, the inhabitants of Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, remain largely uninvolved in the anti-government protests. The two cities central squares have seen rallies in the tens of thousands in support of Assad and his government. Analysts and even opposition activists themselves acknowledge that without mass participation in the protest movement from these two cities, the government will survive and avoid the fate of its counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia.
The first major confrontation between the FSA and the Syrian armed forces occurred in Rastan. From 27 September to 1 October, Syrian government forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, led a major offensive on the city of Rastan in Homs province, which had been under opposition control for a couple weeks. There were reports of large numbers of defections in the city, and the Free Syrian Army reported it had destroyed 17 armoured vehicles during clashes in Rastan, using RPGs and booby traps. The Harmoush battalion also reported that it killed 80 loyalist soldiers in fighting. A defected officer in the Syrian opposition claimed that over a hundred officers had defected as well as thousands of conscripts, although many had gone into hiding or home to their families, rather than fighting the loyalist forces. The Battle of Rastan between the government forces and the Free Syrian Army was the longest and most intense action up until that time. After a week of fighting, the FSA was forced to retreat from Rastan. To avoid government forces, the leader of the FSA, Col. Riad Asaad, retreated to the Turkish side of Syrian-Turkish border.
By the beginning of October, clashes between loyalist and defected army units were being reported fairly regularly. During the first week of the month, sustained clashes were reported in Jabal al-Zawiya in the mountainous regions of Idlib province. In mid-October, other clashes in Idlib governorate include the city of Binnish and the town of Hass in Idlib governorate near the mountain range of Jabal al-Zawiya. In late October, other clashes occurred in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Numaan in Idlib province between loyalists and defected soldiers at a roadblock on the edge of the town, and near the Turkish border, where 10 security agents and a deserter were killed in a bus ambush. It was not clear if the defectors linked to these incidents were connected to the Free Syrian Army.
In October, the Free Syrian Army began to get involved in the Siege of Homs, leading to heavy street fighting in several neighborhoods. During the early stages of the uprising, Homs was one of the most restless of all major cities. It experienced fierce crackdowns by security forces, as the protests began to evolve into an armed rebellion. Homs became what the opposition sometimes called the “Capital of the Revolution,” as the newly formed FSA began to gain ground and control of several quarters of the city.
Armed clashes and escalation
Throughout August, September, and October Syrian forces continued to suppress protests, with hundreds of killings and arrests reportedly having taken place. The crackdown continued into the first three days of November. On 3 November, the government accepted an Arab League plan that aims to restore the peace in the country. According to members of the opposition, however, government forces continued their suppression of protests. Throughout the month, there were numerous reports of civilians taken from their homes turning up dead and mutilated, clashes between loyalist troops and defectors, and electric shocks and hot iron rods being used to torture detainees.
The Arab Parliament recommended the suspension of Arab League member state Syria on 20 September 2011, over persistent reports of disproportionate violence against regime opponents and activists during the uprising. A vote on 12 November agreed to formally suspend Syria four days after the vote, giving Assad a last chance to avoid suspension. Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen voted against the motion, while Iraq abstained. Syria remained suspended as the Arab League sent in December a commission "monitoring" Syria's violence on protestors. By the end of January the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in the country due to worsening conditions and rising violence across the country.
Since 14 November, fighting between armed rebels and security forces began to intensity in Daraa Governorate, in Syria's south. Rebels engaged in ambushes against Syrian soldiers, and security forces attempted raids on restless towns.
On 14 November, more than 70 people were killed across Syria as the army clashed with defectors and shot at civilians. Some 34 soldiers and 12 defectors were killed, along with 27 civilians.
Activists said security forces killed up to 70 army defectors on 19 December as they were deserting their military posts near the Turkish border. At least 30 other people died in other violence across the country, the activists said. If accurate, it would be one of the heaviest daily tolls of the entire revolt up until December.
On 23 December two suicide bombs hit two security facilities in Damascus, killing 30 civilians and soldiers. The government stated the attack "carried the blueprint of al-Qaeda", whereas opposition members blamed the government, and hinted that the government itself may have been behind the attacks to make its case to Arab League observers who arrived in the country only the day before. Government officials brought the advance team of Arab League observers to the scene to see the wreckage. Omar Idilbi, a member of the Syrian National Council thought the explosions "very mysterious because they happened in heavily guarded areas that are difficult to be penetrated by a car." Two days earlier, Lebanese authorities had warned that al-Qaeda members were entering Syria from North Lebanon.
January saw intense fighting in the opposition stronghold of Homs, as the opposition claimed to have gained control of 2/3 of the city. However, starting in 3 February, the Syrian army launched a major offensive to retake rebel-held neighborhoods in the city. In early March, weeks artillery bombardments and heavy street fighting, the Syrian army eventually captured the district of Baba Amr, a major rebel stronghold. The Syrian Army also captured the district of Karm al-Zeitoun by 9 March, before activists claimed that government forces killed 47 women and children. By the end of March, the Syrian army retook control of half a dozen districts, leaving them in control of 70 percent of the city.
On 1 February, Riad al-Asaad, commander of the Free Syrian army, claimed that "Fifty percent of Syrian territory is no longer under the control of the regime," and that half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces. He said the morale of government troops was extremely low. "That’s why they are bombing indiscriminately, killing men, women and children," he said.
Protests have drifted abroad to the doorsteps of Syrian embassies. After the opposition had claimed that more than 200 people perished in the massacre in Homs on 2 February 2012, both Syrian and non-Syrian protesters in Cairo, Kuwait City, and London damaged their respective Syrian embassy.
In an attack on buildings used by Syrian military intelligence in Aleppo, at least 28 people died and 235 were injured on 10 February 2012. The Free Syrian Army, through colonel Arif Hamood, claimed responsibility for the attacks in an interview with France 24, saying mortars and RPGs had been used instead of car bombs as was initially reported. However, shortly thereafter another FSA leader, Riad al-Asaad, denied FSA involvement and asserted a false-flag conspiracy in which the Assad government is presented as the perpetrator of the attack on its own buildings. A correspondent for the Dutch public broadcaster NOS described the latter as an unlikely explanation for the attacks, pointing out that the FSA have earlier indicated that one of their targets is military intelligence, which they hold responsible for a major part of the violence against the opposition.
Kofi Annan's peace plan provided for a ceasefire, but even as the negotiations for it were being conducted, Syrian armed forces attacked a number of towns and villages, and summarily executed scores of people.:11 Incommunicado detention, including of children, also continued. On 12 April, both sides, the Syrian Government and rebels of the FSA entered a UN mediated ceasefire period. It was a failure, with infractions of the ceasefire by both sides resulting in several dozen casualties. Acknowledging its failure, Annan called for Iran to be "part of the solution", though the country has been excluded from the Friends of Syria initiative. The peace plan practically collapsed by early June and the UN mission was withdrawn from Syria. Annan officially resigned on 2 August 2012.
Following the Houla massacre and the consequent FSA ultimatum to the Syrian government, the cease fire practically collapsed towards the end of May 2012, as FSA began nation-wide offensives against the government troops. On 1 June, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed to crush an anti-regime uprising, after the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced that it was resuming "defensive operations."
On 2 June, 57 soldiers were killed in Syria, the largest number of casualties the military has suffered in a single day since the uprising broke out in mid-March 2011.
On 6 June, 78 civilians were killed in the Al-Qubair massacre. According to activist sources, government forces started by shelling the village before pro-government militia, the Shabiha, moved in. The UN observers rushed to the village in a hope to investigate the alleged massacre but were met with a road-block and small arms fire before the village and were forced to retreat.
At the same time, the conflict has started moving into the two largest cities (Damascus and Aleppo) that the government claimed were being dominated by the silent majority, which wanted stability, not government change. In both places there has been a revival of the protest movement in its peaceful dimension. Shopkeepers across the capital staged a general strike and in several Aleppo commercial districts mounted a similar but smaller protest. This has been interpreted by some as indicating that the historical alliance between the government and the business establishment in the large cities has become weak.
On 22 June, a Turkish F-4 fighter jet was shot down by Syrian government forces. Both pilots were killed. Syria stated that it had shot the fighter down using anti-aircraft artillery near the village of Om al-Tuyour, while it was flying over Syrian territorial waters one kilometre away from land. Turkey's foreign minister stated the jet was shot down in international airspace after accidentally entering Syrian airspace, while it was on a training flight to test Turkey's radar capabilities. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed retaliation, saying: "The rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces have changed ... Turkey will support Syrian people in every way until they get rid of the bloody dictator and his gang." Ankara acknowledged that the jet had flown over Syria for a short time, but said such temporary overflights were common, had not led to an attack before, and alleged that Syrian helicopters had violated Turkish airspace five times without being attacked and that a second, search-and-rescue jet had been fired at. Assad later expressed regret over the incident. In August 2012, reports appeared in some Turkish newspapers claiming that the Turkish General Staff had deliberately misinformed the Turkish government about the fighter's location when it was shot down. The reports said that a NATO command post at Izmir and a British base in Cyprus had confirmed that the fighter was shot down inside Syrian waters and that radar intelligence from U.S. forces had disproved any "accidentally entered Syrian waters" flightpath error. The General Staff denied the claims.
Attempts by the international community to agree a transitional government of national unity failed at the beginning of July after Russia insisted the agreement should not preclude Assad from being part of it. Syrian opposition groups rejected the UN-brokered peace plan, arguing that it was ambiguous and vowing not to negotiate with President Assad or members of his regime.
In early July, Manaf Tlass, a Brigadier General of the Republican Guard, defected from Syria, making him the highest-level military defector yet since the uprising began. Western diplomats said his flight is a sign of Assad's weakening inner circle. Nawaf al-Fares, the Syrian ambassador to Iraq who has sympathized with the opposition movement since it began in March 2011, defected to the opposition in mid-July 2012.
Battles of Damascus and Aleppo
By mid-July fighting had spread across the country. Acknowledging this, the International Committee of the Red Cross declared the conflict a civil war. Fighting in Damascus intensified, with a major rebel push to take the city.
On 18 July, Syrian Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, former defense minister Hasan Turkmani, and the president's brother-in-law General Assef Shawkat were killed by a bomb attack in the city. The Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Bekhityar who was injured in the same explosion later succumbed to his wounds. Both the Free Syrian Army and Liwa al-Islam claimed responsibility for the assassination. The fate of the interior minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar was initially the subject of conflicting reports, variously reporting him as injured but alive, and dead. There were also rumors that President Assad may also have been injured in the attack due to his lack of recent public appearance, but days after images of the President since the attack surfaced. The assassinations were the first of such high-ranking members of Assad's elite in the 17-month revolt. In an interview later that month, General Mohammad Al-Zobi of the rebel forces stated that the explosion had been carried out using 15 kilos of explosives smuggled into the building, then detonated remotely.
On 19 July, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. resolution that would add sanctions against the Syrian government, showing again the divide in international opinion towards the conflict. Russia and China, who are major trade allies with Syria, want to see a more balanced resolution calling on both sides to equally halt violence. On the same day, Iraqi officials reported that the Free Syrian Army has gained control of all four border checkpoints between Syria and Iraq, increasing concerns of the safety of Iraqis trying to escape the violence in Syria. At one point during the day, almost all Internet access from Syria was cut off for a period of 40 minutes.
The conflict reached a decisive phase in late July. Government forces managed to break the rebel offensive on Damascus, by pushing out most of the opposition fighters. After this, the focus shifted to the battle for control of Aleppo.
On 25 July, multiple sources reported that the Assad government was using fighter jets to attack rebel positions in the cities of Aleppo and Damascus. On 1 August, the UN observers in Syria witnessed government fighter jets firing on rebels in Aleppo, the country’s largest city.
In early August, Army forces recaptured most of Aleppo’s Salaheddin district. Rebel attacks on Aleppo's airport and the main prison were also repelled.
Non-state parties in the conflict
Syrian National Council
The Syrian opposition met several times in conferences held mostly in Turkey and formed a National Council.
The Federation of Tenseekiet Syrian Revolution helped in the formation of a Transitional National Assembly on 23 August in Istanbul "to serve as the political stage of the Revolution of the Syrian people". The creation of the Syrian National Council was celebrated by the Syrian protestors since the Friday protest following its establishment was dubbed "The Syrian National Council Represents Me". The Syrian National Council gained the recognition of a few countries, including "sole legitimate interlocutor" by the United States. The SNC is said to have developed a debilitating democratic deficit, and some opposition actors on the ground in Syria subsequently refuse to work with it.:5–9
Free Syrian Army
In late July 2011, a web video featuring a group of uniformed men claiming to be defected Syrian Army officers proclaimed the formation of a Free Syrian Army (FSA). In the video, the men called upon Syrian soldiers and officers to defect to their ranks, and said the purpose of the Free Syrian Army was to defend protesters from violence by the state. Many Syrian soldiers subsequently deserted to join the FSA. The actual number of soldiers who defected to the FSA is uncertain, with estimates ranging from 1,000 to over 25,000 as of December 2011. Nir Rosen, who spent time with the FSA in Syria, claims the majority of its members are civilians rather than defectors, who had taken up arms long before the formation of the FSA was announced. He also stated they have no central leadership. The FSA functions more as an umbrella organization than a traditional military chain of command, and is "headquartered" in Turkey. As such, it cannot issue direct orders to its various bands of fighters, but many of the most effective armed groups are fighting under the FSA's banner.
As deserting soldiers abandoned their armored vehicles and brought only light weaponry and munitions, FSA adopted guerilla-style tactics against security forces inside cities. Its primary target has been the shabiha militias. Most FSA attacks however are directed against trucks and buses that are believed to bring security reinforcements. Sometimes the vehicle occupants are taken as hostages, in other cases the vehicles are attacked either with roadside bombs or through hit-and-run attacks. The FSA has also targeted power lines and water mains in "retaliation against Hezbollah’s provocations." To encourage defection, the FSA began attacking army patrols, shooting the commanders and trying to convince the soldiers to switch sides. FSA units have also acted as defense forces by guarding neighborhoods rife with opposition, guarding streets while protests take place, and attacking shabiha members. However, the FSA engaged in street battles with security forces in Deir ez-Zor, Al-Rastan, and Abu Kamal. Fighting in these cities raged for days, with no clear victor. In Hama, Homs, Al-Rastan, Deir ez-Zor, and Daraa, the Syrian military used airstrikes against them, leading to calls from the FSA for the imposition of a no-fly zone. The Free Syrian Army numbers about 15,000 men according to a statement its leader Riad al-Asaad made on Al Jazeera, and he added that these were almost exclusively reserve troops that defected from the Syrian army, and thus were no match against the government's highly trained active-duty troops.
More than 3,000 members of the Syrian security forces have been killed, which the Syrian government states is due to "armed gangs" being among the protesters, yet the opposition blames the deaths on the government. Syrians have been crossing the border to Lebanon to buy weapons on the black market since the beginning of the protests. Clan leaders in Syria claim that the armed uprising is of a tribal, revenge-based nature, not Islamist. On 6 June, the government said more than 120 security personnel were killed by "armed gangs"; 20 in an ambush, and 82 in an attack on a security post. The main centers of unrest – Daraa near Jordan, where the uprising began, Talkalakh, Homs, Talbiseh, and Al-Rastan near Lebanon, and Jisr ash-Shugur near Turkey – have been described as being predominately Sunni Muslim towns and cities close to the country's borders where smuggling has been common for generations, and thus have more access to smuggled weapons.
In September 2011, the Syrian government claimed to have killed a total of 700 insurgents.
Daniel Byman believes the political and military opposition are each worryingly divided and disconnected from each other, and thus uniting, training and pushing the armed opposition to avoid religious sectarianism is crucial. The latter is important, for otherwise the Alawites and other minorities will fight all the harder, and make post-Assad Syria more difficult to govern. Others would say that part of Byman's analysis represents a failure to understand that the leadership within Syria is decentralised out of necessity, that this is a good thing, and that decentralisation is not the same thing as fragmentation, and certainly does not represent an absence of strong leadership. Whichever view one accepts, there are undeniably rivalries between different strands and disagreement between those advocating peaceful protests and those backing armed struggle.
Syrian Kurds represented 10% of Syria's population at the start of the uprising. They had suffered from decades of discrimination and neglect, being deprived of basic civil, cultural, economic and social rights. Additionally, since 1962, they and their children had been denied Syrian nationality, a situation that led to other problems relating to personal status and an inability to seek employment in the public sector.:7 When protests began, Assad's government, in an effort to try and neutralise potential Kurdish opposition, finally granted citizenship to an estimated 200,000 stateless Kurds. This concession on citizenship, combined with Turkish endorsement of the opposition and Kurdish underrepresentation in the Syrian National Council, has meant that Kurds have participated in the 2011–2012 Syrian uprising in smaller numbers than their Syrian Arab counterparts. Consequently, violence and repression in Kurdish areas has been less severe. According to Ariel Zirulnick of the Christian Science Monitor, the Assad government "has successfully convinced many of Syria's Kurds and Christians that without the iron grip of a leader sympathetic to the threats posed to minorities, they might meet the same fate" as minorities in Lebanon and Iraq. In terms of a post-Assad Syria, Kurds reportedly desire a degree of autonomy within a decentralised state.
On 7 October 2011, prominent Kurdish rights activist Mishaal al-Tammo was assassinated when masked gunmen burst into his flat, with the Syrian government blamed for his death. At least 20 other civilians were also killed during crackdowns on demonstrations across the country. The next day, more than 50,000 mourners marched in Al-Qamishli to mark Tammo's funeral, and at least 14 were killed when security forces fired on them.
In 2012, several cities with large Kurdish populations, such as Qamishli and Al-Hasakah, began witnessing protests of several thousand people against the Syrian government, which responded with tanks and fired upon the protesters.
Senior Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Cemil Bayik stated that if Turkey were to intervene against Assad, the PKK would fight on the Syrian side. The PKK's Syrian branch is alleged to be involved in the targeting of Kurds participating in the uprising.
In May 2012, a delegation of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), a coalition of ten Syrian-Kurdish parties established in October 2011, was invited to Washington for talks. Amongst others the delegation met Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria.
On 15 June, it was reported that Kurds had helped government soldiers defeat FSA fighters in the town of Atma. However, head of Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) Salih Muslim, whose militia now control much of Kurdish territories, claims that their group is not fighting on government side, but rather keeping the Kurdish territory out of FSA control in order to protect its citizens from Syrian army response. He also described Syrian regime as brutal, which won't leave Syria until it kills all Syrians.
On 19 July, Kurdish militias from Kurdish Democratic Union Party and Kurdish National Council forced out government forces from several areas, including town of Ayn al-Arab, or Kobanê in Kurdish. Kurdish militias then denied access of FSA whose fighters came upon hearing news of Kurdish victory, arguing that Kurds can take care of Kurdish areas alone. Nuri Brimo, spokesperson for the Kurdish Democratic Party announced that "liberation" of Kobane is beginning of battle for whole Syrian Kurdistan.
Shabiha (Arabic: الشبيحة; from the word شبح "ghost") have been described as "a notorious Alawite paramilitary, who are accused of acting as unofficial enforcers for Assad’s regime"; "gunmen loyal to Assad"; "semi-criminal gangs comprised of thugs close to the regime." Some "shabiha" operating in Aleppo have been reported to be Sunni, however. Bassel al-Assad is reported to have created the secretive militia for the government in times of crisis.
According to a Syrian citizen, shabiha is a term that was used to refer to gangs involved in smuggling during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon: "They used to travel in ghost cars without plates; that's how they got the name Shabbiha. They would smuggle cars from Lebanon to Syria. The police turned a blind eye, and in return Shabbiha would act as a shadow militia in case of need". Witnesses and refugees from the northwestern region say that the shabiha have been intimately involved in the killing, looting and destruction.
At the uprising's outset, some protesters reportedly chanted "Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the coffin". While many in the opposition view the conflict as a sectarian one, some have accused the government of fomenting sectarianism; in a TIME report, an anti-Assad activist claimed that the Syrian government had paid government workers to write anti-Alawite graffiti and chant sectarian slogans at opposition rallies. Alawites who have taken refugee to the coast and Alawite mountains as well as in Lebanon have also told journalists that they were offered money by the Syrian government to spread sectarianism through chants and graffiti. Due to Turkey's stance regarding the civil war, the government has been accused of persecuting Turkmens living in Syria.
The rising sectarianism feared against the Alawite community has led to speculation of a re-creation of the Alawite State as a safe haven for Asad and the leadership should Damascus finally fall. Latakia Governorate and Tartus Governorate both have Alawite majority population and historically made up the Alawite State that existed between 1920–1936. These areas have so far remained relatively peaceful during the Syrian civil war. The re-creation of an Alawite State and the breakup of Syria is however seen critically by most political analysts. King Abdullah II of Jordan has called this scenario the "worst case" for the conflict, fearing a domino effect of de-fragmentation of the country along sectarian lines with consequences to the wider region.
The reaction of Palestinians in Syria has been mixed: many just want to stay out of the situation, some (particularly younger people) have actively supported the protests, but the PFLP-General Command is widely accused of actively supporting the repression (Assad has sheltered the group for years). Due to this, six Palestinian officers were assassinated between January and June 2012.
The Global Post reported that Christians living in Aleppo started to arm themselves, often supplied by the Syrian Army. Christians feared the Islamists and the scenario that happend to the Christians in Iraq.
The Syrian conflict has been interpreted as part of a proxy war between Sunni states, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, who support the Sunni-led opposition, and Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, who support the Alawite-led government in Syria.
In February 2012 German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned that a proxy war in Syria could "cause a confrontation that drags in even Moscow and Beijing". Before his departure to the 2012 G8 Summit the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned, that "actions, which undermine state sovereignty" may well end in "a full-blown regional war" and even the "use of nuclear weapons". Syrian state institutions are regime-centred, thus another Brookings scholar, citing post-invasion Iraq, cautioned against the goal of an immediate purge of all Ba'athists.
Reuters suggested that the prospect of British special forces entering Syria on the ground is growing, following unconfirmed reports from an Israeli website that SAS Commandos were conducting covert operations within Syrian territory, operating from Turkey on 26 June 2012. In July 2012, Switzerland ceased arms exports to the UAE after it emerged Swiss weapons were finding their way to opposition fighters. The Swiss decision came shortly after the UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, called for an urgent stop to arms transfers to government and opposition forces so as to avoid "further militarisation" of the conflict. The director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy had previously argued that, while "uncontrolled militarization will turn the Syrian uprising into a wider conflict that could draw in jihadis and other extremists from across the Muslim World", militarisation was inevitable, and so the US should help facilitate and guide it. Marc Lynch argued the opposite in February 2012, as the provision of weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar was being mooted: "It is unlikely that arms from the outside would come close to evening the balance of power, and would only invite escalations from Syrian regime forces". Lynch was correct: according to the Syrian National Council, the increasingly fierce air and artillery assaults by the government after March 2012 were intended to counter the improved weaponry, coordination and tactics among the opposition forces that arrived from Arab states via Turkey and US facilitation; in June, Amnesty International said the fighting during spring had escalated to "the level and intensity of a non-international armed conflict",:10 while the UN's head of peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous said the country was now in a state of "civil war"; and in July, the head of the UN monitoring mission to Syria, General Robert Mood, warned that violence was reaching an "unprecedented level", as EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, noted the level of violence and number of casualties had risen to "unimaginable levels" over previous weeks. At a conference in Paris shortly afterward, Western and Sunni Arab countries nonetheless announced they were going to "massively increase" aid to the Syrian opposition. Opposition violence has reportedly alarmed some of the peaceful protesters and activists who first drove the uprising.
Support for the opposition
Turkey provided refuge for Syrian dissidents. Syrian opposition activists convened in Istanbul in May to discuss regime change, and Turkey hosts the head of the Free Syrian Army, Colonel Riad al-Asaad. Turkey has become increasingly hostile to the Assad government's policies, has encouraged reconciliation among dissident factions. Beginning in May 2012, some Syrian opposition fighters began being armed and trained by the Turkish Intelligence. As of August 2012, Turkey is reportedly supplying the rebels with FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
Some countries have cut ties with the Assad government including: the Gulf States, Libya, Tunisia, Britain, Spain, Turkey, the United States and Belgium. Canada has closed its visa office but maintains an embassy in Damascus.
Sunni Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir has voiced its support for the Syrian opposition, as has Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, though Hamas leader Salah al-Bardaweel added that this does not mean severance of ties with the Assad government. Bardaweel's claims are at odds with repeated leaks by his group showing that they were prepared to evacuate Syria and had already reduced their presence there. The Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood provided active assistance.
Al-Qaeda and affiliates are anti-Assad. American officials believe that Al-Qaeda in Iraq has conducted bomb attacks against government forces, and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri condemned Assad. On 23 April, one of the leaders of Fatah al-Islam, Abdel Ghani Jawhar, was killed during the Battle of Al-Qusayr, after he blew himself up while making a bomb. A member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon admitted that his group had sent fighters to Syria, while a group thought linked to al-Qaeda and calling itself the al-Nusra Front claimed for a suicide bomb attack on 6 January 2012 in the central Damascus neighbourhood of al-Midan killed 26 people, most of whom were civilians, as well as for truck bombs that killed 55 people and injured 370. Jihadist leaders and intelligence sources said foreign fighters had begun to enter Syria only in February 2012. In May 2012, Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar Ja'afari declared that dozens of foreign fighters from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Britain, France elsewhere had been captured or killed, and urged Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to stop "their sponsorship of the armed rebellion". Jihadist leaders and intelligence sources said foreign fighters had begun to enter Syria only in February 2012. In June, it was reported that hundreds of foreign fighters, many linked to al-Qaeda, had gone to Syria to fight against Assad. In July, Iraq's foreign minister again warned that members of al-Qaeda in Iraq were seeking refuge in Syria and moving there to fight. When asked if the United States would arm the opposition, Hillary Clinton expressed fears that such weapons could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda or Hamas.
A crucial line of support began in spring 2012 as Saudi Arabia and Qatar announced they would begin arming and bankrolling the opposition. Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, and Emile Hokayem of the International Institute of Strategic Studies argued such support would be unlikely to immediately make a decisive impact. A ship carrying weapons from Libya believed destined for Syria's rebels has also been intercepted. According to SNC e-mails leaked to Al Akhbar, Saudi support came with undesirable conditions attached, and played a negative, divisive role in Homs.
According an interview of a Syrian senior official of Assad transmitted by Abkhazian News Agency Anna, former members of Kosovo Liberation Army are fighting in Syria with Syrian opposition. He said that the Syrian Army of Assad killed 400 rebels in Syria, including Kosovan. Syrian official said that all Kosovan have been member of Kosovo Liberation Army.
Support for the Syrian government
In January 2012, Human Rights Watch criticised Russia for "repeating the mistakes of Western governments" in its "misguided" support of Assad. Amnesty International, noting the Syrian government's headlong deployment of military helicopters, criticised Russia of "a wanton disregard for humanity." Human Rights Watch warned Russia's state-owned arms-trading company Rosoboronexport in a letter that, under international law, "providing weapons to Syria while crimes against humanity are being committed may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes", and called on governments and companies around the world to stop signing new contracts and consider suspending current dealings with the Russian company. Not long after, however, the US bought Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport worth hundreds of millions of dollars. One of Russia's interests is access to the port of Tartus, home to its only remaining military base outside the former USSR and thus a key source of its influence in the eastern Mediterranean. The Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a leading Russian think tank, played down Tartus and other allegedly important national interests, though, arguing instead that Russian support was "irrational". In July 2012, however, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy director of Russia's Federal Service for Military Technical Co-operation, announced a halt to any new weapons transfers. A joint group of 10 Russian warships and an equal number of escort vessels led by an anti-submarine destroyer and including landing ships with marines on board, entered the Meditarranean early this week. The task force has been deployed at the time of escalating fighting in Syria with the United States avowing to “intensify” its efforts “outside the Security Council.” The British, French and U.S. navies are planning a larger deployment of warships in Eastern Mediterranean in autumn for naval exercises. In July 2012, Vice-Adm. Viktor Chirkov made the statement that should the base come under attack, the Russian base would be forced to evacuate.
Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was vocally in favor of the Syrian government. The Guardian reported that the Iranian government is assisting the Syrian government with riot control equipment and intelligence monitoring techniques. The Economist said that Iran had, by February 2012, sent the Syrian government $9 billion to help it withstand Western sanctions. It has also shipped fuel to the country and sent two warships to a Syrian port in a display of power and support.
U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice accused Iran of secretly aiding Assad in his efforts to quell the protests, and there have been reports of Syrian protesters hearing security-force members speaking Persian. The city of Zabadani is vitally important to Assad and to Iran because, at least as late as June 2011, the city served as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps's logistical hub for supplying Hezballah.
According to a U.N. panel in May 2012, Iran supplied the Syrian government with arms during the previous year despite a ban on weapons exports by the Islamic Republic. Turkish authorities captured crates and a truck in February 2012, including assault rifles, machine guns, explosives, detonators, 60mm and 120mm mortar shells as well as other items on its border. It was believed these were destined for the Syrian government. The confidential report leaked just hours after an article appeared in the Washington Post revealing how Syrian opposition fighters started to receive more, and better, weapons in an effort paid for by Persian Gulf Arab states and co-ordinated partly by the US. The report investigated three large illegal shipments of Iranian weapons over the past year and stated "Iran has continued to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments. Two of these cases involved (Syria), as were the majority of cases inspected by the Panel during its previous mandate, underscoring that Syria continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers."
In March 2012, anonymous U.S. intelligence officials claimed a spike in Iranian-supplied arms and other aid for the Syrian government. Iranian security officials also allegedly traveled to Damascus to help deliver this assistance. A second senior U.S. official said members of Iran's main intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, are assisting Syrian counterparts in charge of the crackdown. More anonymous sources were cited by the UN in May 2012, as it claimed arms were moving both ways between Lebanon and Syria, and alleged weapons brought in from Lebanon were being used to arm the opposition. The alleged spike in Iranian arms was likely a response to a looming influx of weapons and ammunition to the rebels from Gulf states that had been reported shortly before.
According to US journalist Geneive Abdo, the Iranian government provided the Syrian government with technology to monitor e-mail, cell phones and social media. Iran developed these capabilities in the wake of the 2009 protests and spent millions of dollars establishing a "cyber army" to track down dissidents online. Iran's monitoring technology is believed to be among the most sophisticated in the world, perhaps only second to China. On 24 July 2012, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp commander Massoud Jazayeri said Iranians will not allow enemy plans to change Syria's political system to succeed.
In August 2012, Leon Panetta accused Iran of setting up a pro-Government shia/alawite militia to fight in Syria, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Martin Dempsey compared it to the Mahdi Army of Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Panetta said that there was evidence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are attempting to "train a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the regime." 48 Iranians were captured by the FSA in Damascus, and U.S. officals said that the men who were captured were “active-duty Iranian Revolutionary Guard members."
In August, The Jerusalem Post reported that protesters enraged at Hezbollah's support for Assad's government burned Hezbollah flags and images of its leader Hassan Nasrallah in several places in Syria. Pro-government protestors have carried posters of Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah states they support a process of reforms in Syria and that they also are against what they term US plots to destabilize and interfere in Syria.
China has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution in tandem with Russia; Jerusalem Post correspondent Oren Kessler reported that Beijing's veto was enacted in the interests of preserving its ties with Russia. China was named in a May 2012 Security Council report as a transit hub for illegal arms shipments from North Korea, with UN investigators investigating reports of such shipments to the Syrian government.
In February 2012, it was reported that Hugo Chavez' government in Venezuela had been shipping tens of millions of dollars of diesel to Syria, which can be used to fuel army tanks. The following month, as it prepared a third shipment, Venezuela confirmed that it would continue sending diesel to the country. The Wall Street Journal obtained documents showing that a fourth big shipment of diesel was being readied in July 2012: "the deals are structured to bring other benefits, including shielding Syria's dwindling foreign-exchange reserves". The paper also noted that even "Syria's political opposition is split on the issue of cutting off all energy exports to the country. While they would like to see Mr. Assad's tanks run out of fuel, they also worry that a shortage of diesel could equally undermine the political and military opposition inside Syria." Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has openly expressed his support to Assad government.
A Greece-based trading company, Naftomar, is reputedly the last firm arranging deliveries of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), but, unlike the fuel sent from Venezuela and Russia, LPG is a peaceful material that plays a vital role in countries like Syria that have limited infrastructure for piping gas. International sanctions do not apply to LPG for humanitarian reasons.
WikiLeaks revelations beginning in July 2012 led to accusations that the subsidiary of an Italian arms company had provided communications equipment to the Syrian military in May 2011, and that, as late as February 2012, its engineers gave training on the use of the communications technology, including how it could be installed in helicopters. The company said the equipment was for civilian use and said it had not sold any technology to Syria since the beginning of the uprising.
Estimates of deaths in the conflict vary with figures from 23,300 to 30,850.
The particular problem has been to ascertain the number of armed combatants who have died due to opposition policy of counting rebel fighters who were not defectors as civilians. Although, at least half of those killed have been estimated to be combatants from both sides, including almost 6,000 government soldiers. In addition, UNICEF reported that over 500 children have been killed. Another 400 children have been reportedly arrested and tortured in Syrian prisons. Additionally, over 600 detainees and political prisoners have died under torture.
The Arab League, European Union, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and many Western governments condemned the violence and the Syrian government's response to the protests, and many expressed support for the protesters' right to exercise free speech. China and Russia supported the government against international sanctions. Russia, whose Mediterranean fleet's primary naval base is in Syria, denounced the use of violence by the opposition and the presence of "terrorists" within its ranks. On 3 August 2012 United Nations passed a second non binding resolution condemning the Syrian government as well as the Security Council for failing to stop the violence. The resolution stressed "grave concern" over the deteriorating conflict in the country.The Saudi sponsored resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority of 133-12 with 31 abstentions. On Thursday Aug 16, 2012, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which represents 1.5 billion Muslims, suspended Syria at a summit in Saudi Arabia "billed as a diplomatic showdown between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran".  In the 57-nation body only Algeria voted with Iran against Syria's suspension. 
- 8th of March Revolution
- 1966 Syrian coup d'état
- 1970 Syrian Corrective Revolution
- Islamic uprising in Syria
- List of articles related to the Syrian civil war
- List of modern conflicts in the Middle East
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