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Friday, April 14, 2017

Here are the facts on the Syrian conflict

Conflict Background

The conflict in Syria began as an offshoot of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Sparked on April 29th in the town of Daraa by a group of 13 year old boys who wrote on the side of their school "The Government must go!", the movement began as a uprising for democracy. But in the past four years, it has since disintegrated into a cauldron of competing rebel groups, terrorist elements, international powers, and religious factions--all with a quarter million Syrians killed with millions displaced.

1. Uprising Beginning's

The wave of Arab unrest that began with the Tunisian revolution reached Syria on March 15, 2011, when residents of a small southern city took to the streets to protest the torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti. The government responded with heavy-handed force, and demonstrations quickly spread across much of the country.

President Bashar al-Assad, a British-trained doctor who inherited Syria’s harsh dictatorship from his father, Hafez al-Assad, at first wavered between force and hints of reform. But in April 2011, just days after lifting the country’s decades-old state of emergency, he 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.

In the summer of 2011, as the crackdown dragged on, thousands of soldiers defected and began launching attacks against the government, bringing the country to what the United Nations in December called the verge of civil war.  An opposition government in exile was formed, the Syrian National Council, but the council’s internal divisions have kept Western and Arab governments from recognizing it as such. The opposition remains a fractious collection of political groups, longtime exiles, grass-roots organizers and armed militants, divided along ideological, ethnic or sectarian lines.

The conflict is complicated by Syria’s ethnic divisions. The Assads and much of the nation’s elite, especially the military, belong to the Alawite sect, a minority in a mostly Sunni country. While the Assad government has the advantage of crushing firepower and units of loyal, elite troops, the insurgents should not be underestimated. They are highly motivated and, over time, demographics should tip in their favor. Alawites constitute about 12 percent of the 23 million Syrians. Sunni Muslims, the opposition’s backbone, make up about 75 percent of the population.

The United States and countries around the world condemned President Assad, who many had hoped would soften his father’s iron-handed regime. Criticism has also come from unlikely quarters, like Syria’s neighbors, Jordan and Turkey, and the Arab League. Syria was expelled from the Arab League after it agreed to a peace plan only to step up attacks on protesters. In late 2011 and early 2012, Syria agreed to allow league observers into the country. But their presence did nothing to slow the violence.

In February 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution condemning President Assad’s unbridled crackdown on the uprising, but China and Russia, Syria’s traditional patron, blocked all efforts for stronger Security Council action.

Tensions have also spilled over borders into Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, and fears have increased with evidence that Al Qaeda was behind a rise in suicide bombings in 2012.

By the summer of 2012, the conflict had greatly increased in tempo and violence on all sides, as advocacy groups estimated that about 400 died in June 2011 and more than 3,000 people in June 2012. According to estimates from the United Nations, the conflict has left more than 10,000 dead, thousands more displaced. The Syrian government has waged an unrelenting campaign of arrests that has snared tens of thousands of people.

In cities throughout Syria, including the capital, Damascus, and the largest city, Aleppo, the opposition had coalesced around armed groups identifying themselves as elements of the Free Syrian Army. From bases in refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border, the flow of weapons, medical supplies and money increased.

As the conflict has continued without resolution, Syrians involved in the struggle say it is becoming more radicalized: homegrown Muslim jihadists, as well as small groups of fighters from Al Qaedahave been taking a more prominent role and demanding a say in running the resistance.

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