Syrian Civil War

Syrian civil war
Part of the Arab Spring

Clockwise from top left: Opposition protest in Free Syrian Army; FSA members with captured tank; burning building in Homs; Syrian Army checkpoint in Damascus.

(For a war map of the current situation in Syria, see here)

Date 15 March 2011 (2011-03-15)ongoing
(1 year, 8 months, 2 weeks and 2 days)
Location Syria
Result Ongoing




  • Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas brigade[6]


(For other forms of foreign support, see here)

Syrian opposition

Supported by:
 Turkey[13] (including border clashes)
 Saudi Arabia[13]

(For other forms of foreign support, see here)

Flag of Jihad.svg Mujahideen[14]

Supported by:
 Saudi Arabia[17]


Supported by:
Iraqi Kurdistan Iraqi Kurdistan[19]
(*The PYD has also experienced clashes with the Syrian opposition. See also: 2012 Syrian Kurdistan rebellion)

Commanders and leaders
Bashar al-Assad
President of Syria
Sec. (head) Syrian Regional Command – Ba’ath Party

Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij
Deputy Commander in Chief
Flag of the Ba'ath Party.svg Abdullah al-Ahmar  (POW)
Former Secretary General – Ba’ath Party (pan-Arab organisation)
Flag of the Ba'ath Party.svg Gen. Mohammed Saeed Bekheitan (WIA)
Asst. Sec. Syrian Regional Command – Ba’ath Party
Wael Nader al-Halqi
Prime Minister
Gen. Dawoud Rajiha 
Minister of Defense (August 2011 – July 2012)
Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayyoub
Chief of Army Staff
Gen. Maher al-Assad
Republican Guard Commander
Namir al-Assad
Shabiha Leader[20]
Gen. Assef Shawkat 
Deputy Defense Minister (September 2011 – July 2012)
Ali Mamlouk
National Security Minister
Gen. Rustum Ghazaleh
Political Security Directorate
Gen. Mohammad al-Shaar (WIA)
Interior Minister
Hisham Ikhtiyar 
Intelligence head (until July 2012)
Hasan Turkmani 
Deputy Vice President (until July 2012)

Gen. Ahmad Vahidi
Defense Minister of Iran[21]
Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamadani
Commander of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria[23]

Hassan Nasrallah
Secretary-General of Hezbollah
Ali Hussein Nassif 
Commander of Hezbollah in Syria

Moaz al-Khatib al-Hasani
Leader of National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces

George Sabra
Syrian National Council (SNC) Chairman
Riad al-Asaad
Free Syrian Army Commander
Mustafa al-Sheikh
Higher Military Council Head
Mohammad Riad Aal-Shaqfeh
Muslim Brotherhood Leader
Haitham al-Maleh
Council of Syrian Revolutionary Trustees Head
Abdul Razzaq Tlass
Farouq Battalion Commander
Abdul Halim Khaddam
Vice President of Syria (March 1984– June 2005)
Riyad Farid Hijab
Prime Minister (23 June – 6 August 2012)[24]
Abdul Jabbar al-Oqeidi
FSA Head of Aleppo
Mahdi al-Harati
Liwaa Al-Umma commander (Libyan volunteer)

Salih Muslim Muhammad
Feysel Yusuf
Abdul Hakim Bashar

Syrian Armed Forces: 200,000[26]

General Security Directorate: 8,000
Shabiha militiamen: 10,000 fighters
Hezbollah: 1,500 fighters[29]
Shiism arabic blue.PNG 500 fighters[6]

70,000–100,000 fighters[30]

  • 30,000 defectors (by July 2012)[31]
  • 6,000 Liwaa Al-Umma fighters (including 600 foreigners)[32]

1,200–1,500 foreign Mujahideen[33]

4,000–4,500 PYD fighters[34]

Casualties and losses
Syrian security forces

10,150–11,939 soldiers and policemen killed,[37]
710+ soldiers and militiamen captured[39]
Hezbollah and
Iranian Basij
590 killed[44]
10 killed[45]
Syrian government officials
1,000 killed[46]

Syrian rebels and protesters

10,000 fighters*[49]
33,175 protesters and fighters captured[50]

Foreign Mujahideen
48 killed[53]

Kurdish rebels
at least 9 killed[56]

F4 Phantom pilots killed

39,511[35] Syrians killed overall (opposition claims)**

435 foreign civilians killed (see here)
Jordan 1 Jordanian soldier killed[57]
1.2 million internally displaced[58]
335,000–500,000 refugees[58]

*Number possibly higher due to the opposition counting rebels that were not defectors as civilians.[59]
**Numbers do not include foreign combatants from both sides or Shabiha militiamen who have been killed.

The Syrian civil war,[60] also referred to as the Syrian uprising,[61] is an ongoing armed conflict in Syria between forces loyal to the Ba’ath Party government and those seeking to oust it. The conflict began on 15 March 2011 with nationwide demonstrations as part of the wider protest movement known as the Arab Spring. Protesters demanded the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, as well as the end to nearly five decades of Ba’ath Party rule.

In April 2011, the Syrian Army was deployed to quell the uprising, and soldiers were ordered to open fire on civilians. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion. Opposition forces, mainly composed of defected soldiers and civilian volunteers, became increasingly armed and organized as they unified into larger groups, with some groups receiving military aid from several foreign countries. However, the rebels remained fractured, without organized leadership. The Syrian government characterizes the insurgency as “armed terrorist groups.” The conflict has no clear fronts, with clashes taking place in many towns and cities across the country.

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 military intervention.[62] The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership because of 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 was made through the appointment of Kofi Annan as a special envoy. 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 international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions to Syria.

According to various sources, between 40,000 and 52,545 people have been killed,[35][63] of which about half were civilians, but also including 20,890–22,680 armed combatants consisting of both the Syrian army and rebel forces,[35][47][36][37] up to 2,210 opposition protesters[48][49] and 1,000 government officials.[46] By October 2012, up to 28,000 people were reported missing including civilians forcibly abducted by government troops or security forces.[64] According to the UN, about 1.2 million Syrians have been displaced within the country.[58] To escape the violence, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. In addition, tens of thousands of protesters have been imprisoned, and there have been reports of widespread torture in the government’s prisons.[65][66] International organizations have accused the government and Shabiha of severe human rights violations.[67] Anti-government rebels have been accused of human rights abuses as well.[68] The vast majority of abuses have, however, been committed by the Syrian government’s forces.[69]




The Ba’ath Party government came to power in 1963 after a successful coup d’état. In 1966, another coup overthrew the traditional leaders of the party, Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar.[70] In 1970, the 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.[71] In 1982, at the height of a six-year Islamist insurgency throughout the country, Hafez al-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.[72] This became known as the Hama massacre, which left tens of thousands dead.[73]

The issue of Hafez al-Assad’s succession prompted the 1999 Latakia protests,[74] when violent protests and armed clashes erupted following the 1998 People’s Assembly Elections. The violent events were an explosion of a long-running feud between Hafez al-Assad and his younger brother Rifaat.[74] Two people were killed in fire exchanges between Syrian police and Rifaat’s supporters during a police crackdown on Rifaat’s port compound in Latakia. According to opposition sources, denied by the government, the protests resulted in hundreds dead and injured.[75] 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.[71]

Bashar al-Assad, who speaks English fluently and [78]


The Assef Shawkat, was the deputy minister of defense. 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.


Discontent against the government was stronger among people in the nation’s poorer areas.[85]

Human rights

The state of [87]

Rights of expression, association and assembly are strictly controlled in Syria.[91]

[94] Occasional clashes between Kurdish protesters and security forces have since continued.

Arab Spring

In December 2010, mass anti-government protests began in Tunisia and later spread across the Arab world, including Syria. By February 2011, revolutions occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, while Libya began to experience a civil war. Numerous other Arab countries also faced protests, with some attempting to calm the masses by making concessions and governmental changes. The events were later commonly referred to as the Arab Spring.

Chemical weapons

The issue of chemical weapons has been important, as Syria is thought to have the third largest stockpile of such weapons in the world, and opposition forces are concerned they may be used as a last resort to remain in power by the regime.[97]

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman [104]

On 28 September [99]

Uprising and civil war

Beginnings of protests

Flag of Syria (1932-58) used by the Syrian opposition

Before the uprising in Syria began in mid-March 2011, protests were relatively modest, considering the wave of unrest that was spreading across the Arab world. Syria remained what Al Jazeera described as 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.[106]

The events began on 26 January 2011,[109]

“Down with Bashar al-A[ssad]”. Government-critical graffiti was an early sign of the uprising.

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.[112]

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.[113] 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.[114]

Revolt and escalating protests

A student rally in support of Bashar al-Assad at Latakia, Syria.

Demonstration in Homs against Assad

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.[117]

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, [119]

These events lead to a “Friday of Dignity” on 18 March, when large-scale protests broke out in several cities, including Banias, Damascus, al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir az-Zor and Hama. Police responded to the protests with tear gas, water canons, beatings and even live ammunition. At least 6 people were killed and many others injured. Over the course of the uprising, protests often gathered after Friday communal prayers at central mosques. 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.[113]

Increasingly, the city of [122]

Domestic response

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 Assad. In early February, authorities arrested several activists, including political leaders Ghassan al-Najar,[125]

The police often responded to the protests violently, not only using water cannons and tear gas, but also beating protesters and firing live ammunition.[126]

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. Arrests focused on two groups: political activists, and men and boys from the towns that the Syrian Army would start to besiege in April.[127]

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.[128]


Pro-Assad rally in Lattakia

During March and April, the Syrian government, hoping to alleviate the unrest, offered political reforms and policy changes. Authorities shortened mandatory army conscription,[131] Many of these announced reforms were never implemented.

The government, dominated by the Alawite sect, made some concessions to the majority Sunni and some minority populations. Authorities reversed a ban that restricted teachers from wearing the [92]

A popular demand from protestors was an end of the nation’s state of emergency, which had been in effect for nearly 50 years. The emergency law had been used to justify arbitrary arrests and detention, and to ban political opposition. After weeks of debate, Assad signed the decree on 21 April, lifting Syria’s state of emergency.[133]


Opposition demonstration in Baniyas

Anti-government protests continued in April, with activists unsatisfied with what they considered vague promises of reform from Assad.[136]

Censorship of events

Since demonstrations began in March, the Syrian government has restricted independent news coverage, barring foreign free press outlets and arresting reporters who try to cover protests. Some journalists had been reported to have gone missing, been detained, been tortured in custody, or been killed on duty. International media have relied heavily on footage shot by civilians, who would often upload the files on the internet.[137]

The government disabled mobile phones, landlines, electricity, and the Internet in several places. Authorities had extracted passwords of social media sites from journalists through beatings and torture. The pro-government online group the Syrian Electronic Army had frequently hacked websites to post pro-regime material, and the government has been implicated in malware attacks targeted at those reporting on the crisis. The government also targeted and tortured political cartoonists who were critical of the crackdown.[138]


Anti-government demonstration in Baniyas



When the uprising began in mid-March, many analysts believed that the Syrian government would remain intact, partly due to strict loyalty tests and the fact that most top-position officials belonged to the same sect as Assad, the Alawites. However, in response to the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters, many soldiers and low-level officers began to desert from the Syrian Army. Many soldiers who refused to open fire against civilians were summarily executed by the army. As the uprising progressed, senior military officers and government officials began to defect as well to the opposition.[143] The number of defections would increase during the following months, as army deserters began to group together to form fighting units. Over the course of the uprising and the subsequent civil war, the opposition fighters would become more well-equipped and organized as they received funds and supplies from foreign nations.

Important defectors included [145]

Protests and military sieges

Opposition demonstration in one of Homs’ districts

As the protests and unrest continued, the Syrian government began launching major military operations to suppress resistance. This signaled a new phase in the uprising, as the government response changed from a mix of concessions and force to violent repression. On 25 April, [148] By 5 May, most of the protests had been suppressed, and the military began pulling out of Daraa. However, some troops remained to keep the situation under control.

During the crackdown in Daraa, the Syrian Army also besieged and blockaded several towns and suburbs around Damascus. Throughout May, situations similar to those that occurred in Daraa were reported in other besieged towns and cities, such as [152]

The military crackdown, led by an Alawite government, worsened tensions between Sunnis and Alawites in the country. 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. As the uprising progressed, sectarian elements increasingly emerged from the conflict.[153]

In June, the Syrian Army expanded operations, and besieged Rastan and Talbiseh. Some besieged cities and towns were described having famine-like conditions.[154] The army also besieged the northern cities of Jisr ash-Shugur[155] and Maarat al-Numaan near the Turkish border.[156] 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”,[157] though local residents claimed the dead Syrian troops and officers were executed for refusing to fire on protesters.[158] On 30 June, large protests erupted against the Assad government in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which were labeled the “Aleppo volcano”.[159]

On 3 July, Syrian tanks were deployed at Hama two days after the city witnessed the largest demonstration against Bashar al-Assad.[161]

Formation of opposition groups

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.[162]

By October, the FSA would start to receive military support from Turkey, who allowed the rebel army to operate its command and headquarters from the country’s southern Hatay province close to the Syrian border, and its field command from inside Syria.[30] The FSA would often launch attacks into Syria’s northern towns and cities, while using the Turkish side of the border as a safe zone and supply route. A year after its formation, the FSA would gain control over many towns close to the Turkish border.

On 23 August, a coalition of anti-government groups was formed, the Syrian National Council. The group, based in Turkey, attempted to organize the opposition. However, 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.[163]

Throughout August, Syrian forces stormed major urban centers and outlying regions, and continued to attack protests. On 14 August, the Siege of Latakia continued as the Syrian Navy for the first time 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, causing up to 28 deaths.[164] Throughout the next few days, the siege dragged on, with government forces and shabiha militia continuing to fire on civilians in the city, as well as throughout the country. The Eid ul-Fitr celebrations, started in near the end of August, were reportedly muted after security forces fired on large demonstrations in Homs, Daraa, and the suburbs of Damascus.[165]

During the first six months of the uprising, the inhabitants of Syria’s two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, remained largely uninvolved in the anti-government protests.[167]

Armed clashes

FSA fighters in Idlib province

As military defections increased, sporadic clashes began to occur between the defectors and security forces. On 8 September, the Syrian Army raided the home of the brother of army defector Colonel Hussein Harmouche, one of the first defecting officers. The operation in Idlib province resulted in the death of three defectors and six Syrian Army soldiers. Around this time, defectors in the province and elsewhere began to group together and target Syrian Army patrols. Protests still continued, but they were often dispersed with gunfire by security forces and pro-government militias.[168]

The first major confrontation between the FSA and the Syrian armed forces occurred in [172]

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.[173] In mid-October, other clashes in Idlib province include the city of Binnish and the town of Hass in the province near the mountain range of Jabal al-Zawiya.[174][175] In late October, other clashes occurred in the northwestern town of Maarrat al-Nu’man in the province between government forces 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.[176] It was not clear if the defectors linked to these incidents were connected to the FSA.[177]

Throughout 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.

A FSA fighter engaged in a shootout in Aleppo

The [113]


FSA fighters in Idlib

In early November, clashes between the FSA and security forces in Homs escalated as the siege continued. After six days of bombardment, the Syrian Army stormed the city on 8 November, leading to heavy street fighting in several neighborhoods. Resistance in Homs was significantly greater than that seen in other towns and cities, resulting in fierce crackdowns by security forces. The city became what the opposition sometimes called the “Capital of the Revolution”, as the newly formed FSA began to gain ground and control over several quarters of the city.

November saw increasing rebel attacks, as opposition forces grew in number. Since 14 November, sporadic fighting between armed rebels and security forces began to become more frequent in attacked on an airbase in Homs province, causing several personnel casualties.

Burning oil pipeline in Homs

Throughout December, heavy clashes between security and opposition forces continued across the country, especially in Daraa, Homs, Idlib, and Hama provinces, where discontent against the government was greater than that in the rest of the country. Opposition forces became more organized as they launch bolder and more sophisticated attacks. On 1 December, FSA fighters killed eight personnel in a raid on an intelligence building in Idlib. On 15 December, opposition fighters ambushed checkpoints and military bases around Daraa, killing 27 soldiers, in one of the largest attacks yet on security forces.[182]

Neighborhoods in Homs under siege (8 February 2012).

By early 2012 daily protests had dwindled, eclipsed by the spread of armed conflict:[185]

Fighting erupted in Rastan again on 29 January, when dozens of soldiers manning the town’s checkpoints defected and began opening fire on troops loyal to the government. After days of battle, opposition forces gained complete control of the town and surrounding suburbs on 5 February. In a bombing attack on buildings used by Syrian military intelligence in Aleppo, at least 28 people died and 235 were injured on 10 February 2012. It was unclear who the perpetrator of the attack was due to conflicting claims.[186]

By February, intense fighting continued in Homs, as rebels claimed to have gained control over two-thirds of the city. However, starting in 3 February, the Syrian army launched a major offensive to retake rebel-held neighborhoods. In early March, after weeks of 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, where 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.[187]

Ceasefire attempt

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.[190] The peace plan practically collapsed by early June and the UN mission was withdrawn from Syria. Annan officially resigned on 2 August 2012.

Renewed fighting

Situation in Syria during June 2012[192]

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 FSA announced that it was resuming “defensive operations”.[193]

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.[193]

Since 5 June, the Syrian army has been battling rebels around the city of Latakia, using tanks and helicopter gunships.[194]

On 6 June 78 civilians were killed in the Al-Qubeir massacre. According to activist sources, government forces started by shelling the village before pro-government militia, the Shabiha, moved in.[195] 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.[196][197]

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.[198]

On 22 June, a Turkish [206]

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.[208]

Battles of Damascus and Aleppo

By mid-July fighting had spread across the country. Acknowledging this, the [210]

On 18 July, [218]

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.[221]

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, although fighting still continued in the outskirts. After this, the focus shifted to the battle for control of Aleppo.[222]

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.[224]

In early August, the rebels suffered setbacks. The FSA offensive to capture Aleppo was repelled, and the Syrian Army recaptured Salaheddin district, an important rebel stronghold in Aleppo.

On 19 September, rebel forces seized a border crossing between Syria and Turkey in Ar-Raqqah province. Along with several other border crossings into Turkey and one into Iraq, the capture of this one could provide opposition forces strategic and logistical advantages, allowing greater ease transporting supplies into the country.[225]

In late September, the FSA moved its command headquarters from southern Turkey into rebel-controlled areas of northern Syria.[226]

On 3 October 2012, a [228]

On 9 October, rebel forces seized control of Maarat al-Numan, a strategic town in Idlib province on the highway linking Damascus with Aleppo.[229]

By 18 October, the FSA had captured most of Douma, the biggest suburb of Damascus. Fighting and bombardments continue in the town.[230]

On 22 October, a Jordanian soldier died during a gunfight between Jordanian troops and Islamic militants attempting to cross the border into Syria. Sameeh Maaytah, the Information Minister of Jordan, said the soldier was the first Jordanian military personnel to be killed in clashes connected to the civil war in Syria.[57]

Second ceasefire attempt

Situation of Syria, as of 1 December 2012.

  Cities controlled by the Syrian government
  Cities controlled by opposition or Kurdish forces
  Ongoing conflict/unclear situation

On 25 October, the Syrian government announced via its state media that it would suspend military operations from 26 to 29 October, during Muslim [232]

Northern rebel offensive

After the ceasefire agreement officially ended on 30 October, the Syrian military expanded aerial bombings in Damascus. A bombing of the Damascus district of Jobar was the first instance of a fighter jet being used in Damascus airspace to attack targets in the city. The next day, Gen. Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi, a Syrian Air Force commander who described by the state media as one of the country’s top aviation experts, was assassinated by opposition gunmen in the Damascus district of Rukn al-Din.[233]

In early November, rebels made significant gains in Northern Syria. The rebel capture of [236]

On 6 November 7 generals arrived in Turkey to defect, Turkish news media reported.[237]

On 18 November, rebels took control of one of the Syrian Army’s largest military bases in northern Syria, Base 46 in the Aleppo Governorate after weeks of intense fighting with government forces. Defected General Mohammed Ahmed al-Faj, who commanded the assault, hailed the capture of Base 46 as “one of our biggest victories since the start of the revolution” against Bashar al-Assad, claiming nearly 300 Syrian troops had been killed and 60 had been captured with rebels seizing large amounts of heavy weapons and tanks.[238]

On 22 November, rebels captured the Mayadeen military base in the country’s eastern Deir ez Zor province. Activists said this gave the rebels control of a large amount of territory east of the base, to the Iraqi border.[239]

On 29 November, the Syrian government imposed a nationwide internet blackout along with severing phone service, leaving Syrians largely cut off from contact with the outside world. In response, the global hacktivist network Anonymous declared an operation to shut down websites of the Syrian government.[240]

Non-state parties in the conflict


The Shabiha is a militia network established in the 1970s and led by Alawites connected to the Assad family. Since the uprising, the Syrian government has frequently used the group to break up protests and enforce laws in restive neighborhoods.[241]

Shabiha have been described as “a notorious Alawite paramilitary, who are accused of acting as unofficial enforcers for Assad’s regime”;[245]

According to a Syrian citizen, shabiha is a term that was used to refer to gangs involved in smuggling during the [247]

Free Syrian Army

An FSA checkpoint

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.[10] Many Syrian soldiers subsequently deserted to join the FSA.[248] 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.[249] 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.[250] 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 [252]

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.[257]

Daniel Byman believes the political and military opposition are each worryingly divided and disconnected from each other,[262]

Syrian National Coalition

International recognition (green) of the National Coalition as the legitimate government of Syria (red).

Coalition members in Sabra.

On 11 November 2012 in Doha, the National Council and other opposition forces united as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The following day it was recognized as the legitimate government of Syria by Gulf states. Delegates to the leadership council are to include women and representatives of religious and ethnic minorities, including Awalites. The military council will reportedly include the Free Syrian Army.[263]

Organized crime

Sanctions from the US, EU, and the Arab League significantly hindered the Syrian economy, especially international trade. In response, the Syrian government began to work more with criminal organizations, who smuggle goods and money in and out of the country. Syria has experience with working with criminal groups for profit, sometimes offering them protection. During the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, members of the Syrian government ran drug production and counterfeiting operations that resulted in an estimated $500 million of profit per year. The economic downturn caused by the conflict and sanctions also led to lower wages for Shabiha members. In response, some Shabiha members began stealing civilian properties, and engaging in kidnappings.[241]

Rebel forces sometimes relied on criminal networks to obtain weapons and supplies. Black market weapon prices in Syria’s neighboring countries have significantly increased since the start of the conflict. To generate funds to purchase arms, some rebel groups have turned towards extortion, stealing, and kidnapping.[241]


At the uprising’s outset, some protesters reportedly chanted “Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the coffin”.[267]

Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist militant group, claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings in Aleppo in early October 2012.

The rising sectarianism feared against the Alawite community has led to speculation of a re-creation of the [270]

The [272]

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.[267]

In October 2012, fighting broke out between the Assads and the Othman Alawite clans in the Assad’s hometown of Qardaha over whether or not to support Bashar Assad. Locals claim that fighting began when a local from the Othman clan protested the war to Mohammed Assad, Assad’s father and alleged Shabiha leader. Mohammed al Assad was greatly angered by this, and attacked the family’s home with several other gunmen. Not long after, a shootout ensued between the Othmans and Mohammed Assad, resulting in Mohammed Assad being seriously injured and sent to the hospital, with his current status unknown. Several members from the Othman clan were killed. Protests against Assad began popping up in Qardaha and Latakia, and the Syrian army sent soldiers and tanks to try quell dissent in Qardaha.[273]

In October 2012, various Iraqi religious sects join the conflict in Syria on both sides. Sunnis from Iraq, have traveled to Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government.[274] Also, Shiites from Iraq, in Babil Province and Diyala Province, have traveled to Damascus from Tehran, or from the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq to protect Sayyida Zeinab, an important Shiite shrine in Damascus.[274] According to Abu Mohamed, with the Sadrist Trend, said he recently received an invitation from the Sadrists’ leadership to discuss the shrine in Damascus.[274] A senior Sadrist official and former member of Parliament, speaking said that convoys of buses from Najaf, under the cover story of pilgrims, were carrying weapons and fighters to Damascus.[274] Some of the pilgrims were members of Iran‘s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.[274] Some Shiites “describe the Syrian conflict as the beginning of the fulfillment of a Shiite prophecy that presages the end of time by predicting that an army, headed by a devil-like figure named Sufyani, will rise in Syria and then conquer Iraq’s Shiites.”[274] According to Hassan al-Rubaie, a Shiite cleric from Diyala Province, said, “The destruction of the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab in Syria will mean the start of sectarian civil war in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.” [274]

Kurdish stance

Sheikh Maqsoud
Al Qus
Towns under Kurdish control

Kurds showing their support for the PYD in Afrin during the conflict

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.[280]

A PYD checkpoint in Afrin during the Syrian civil war

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.[281]

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.[282]

Some in the opposition have claimed that the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group in Turkey, is helping the Syrian government in the conflict. However, Murat Karayilan, the leader of the PKK, has denied such claims, stating that the Kurds in Syria do not support either side.[283]

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.[284]

On 15 June, it was reported that Kurds had helped government soldiers defeat FSA fighters in the town of [286]

On 19 July, Kurdish militias from [288]


The reaction of the approximately 500,000[291]

Foreign reaction and involvement

International reaction

The conflict in Syria received significant international attention. The Arab League,[292] European Union,[293] Secretary-General of the United Nations,[294] and many Western governments condemned the Syrian government’s violent response to the protests, and many expressed support for the protesters’ right to exercise free speech.[295] Russia and China consistently rejected any United Nations resolution that would impose sanctions on Syria.[296] Russia denounced the use of violence by the opposition, and claimed that “terrorists” are present within its ranks.[297] Iran also expressed support for Assad.[163] Both the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League have suspended Syria from membership.

Military support

Qatar, Turkey has also provided the rebels with arms and other military equipment.

In June 2012, Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish [300]

In late 2012, tensions between [305]

In 2012, the [311]



Some analysts have interpreted the Syrian conflict as part of a regional [322]


In August 2012, the United Nations said 2.5 million people needed help due to the civil war, and more than one million people were internally displaced.[323]


Total deaths over the course of the conflict in Syria

Estimates of deaths in the conflict vary, with figures ranging from 40,000 to 52,545.[63]

One problem has been determining the number of “armed combatants” who have died, due to some sources counting rebel fighters who were not defectors as civilians.[330]

Human rights violations

Weekly deaths over the course of the conflict in Syria

The “vast majority” of human rights violations, including the [338]

In October, Amnesty International published a report stating 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.[339]

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.[332]:4–5

Crime wave

Doctors and medical staff treating injured rebel fighters and civilians in Aleppo

As the conflict has expanded across Syria, many cities have been engulfed in a wave of crime as fighting caused the disintegration of much of the civilian state, and many police stations stopped functioning. Rates of thievery increased, with criminals looting houses and stores. Rates of kidnappings increased as well. Rebel fighters were sighted stealing cars and destroying an Aleppo restaurant in which Syrian soldiers had eaten.[340]

As of July 2012, the human rights group [342]


The violence in Syria has caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, with many seeking safety in nearby countries. Jordan has seen the largest influx of refugees since the conflict began, followed by Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. On 9 October 2012, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of Syrian refugees had increased to between 355,000 to 500,000.[58]

Cultural heritage

The civil war has caused damage to both Syrian cultural heritage and [344]

Effects on Lebanon

The Syrian civil war is spilling into Lebanon, leading to incidents of sectarian violence in northern Lebanon between supporters and opponents of the Syrian government, and armed clashes between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli.[345]

On 17 September 2012, Syrian [346]

On 22 September, a group of armed members of the Free Syrian Army attacked a border post near Arsal. The group were chased off into the hills by the Lebanese Army, who detained and later released some rebels due to pressure from dignified locals. President Sleiman praised the actions taken by the military as maintaining Lebanon’s position being “neutral from the conflicts of others”. He called on border residents to “stand beside their army and assist its members.” Syria has repeatedly called for an intensified crackdown on rebels that it says are hiding in Lebanese border towns.[347][348]

On 11 October, four shells fired by the Syrian military hit Qaa, where previous shelling incidents had caused fatalities.[349]

On 19 October, a car bomb exploded in central Beirut, killing a top Lebanese security official, Wissam al-Hassan. At least 7 others were killed and perhaps 80 were injured in the blast.[350]

Refugee children from Syria have been displaced into the border towns, threatening to overwhelm the Beqaa educational system.[351]

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Further reading

External links

Source: Wikipedia

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