Syria's war: Everything you need to know about how we got here

Syria’s war: Everything you need to know about how we got here

Syria's war: Everything you need to know about how we got here


SYRIA – It began with the arrests of a handful of children in 2011. Since then it’s exploded into the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

Syria’s civil war has left more than 300,000 people dead and forced 10.6 million — nearly half the population — out of their homes. How did it come to this? Explore the events that have shaped the crisis since 2011.

February 2011: As Arab Spring demonstrations overthrow governments across the Middle East, a group of children in Daraa, southern Syria, are arrested and allegedly tortured for scrawling graffiti on a school reading “the people want to topple the regime.”

March 2011: Syrians protest in cities across the country, demanding the government enact reforms and release political protesters. Government forces fire on the demonstrations, killing dozens.

July 2011: As the government crackdown intensifies, a group of Syrian military officers defect and form the Free Syrian Army. In a video posted on YouTube, they say thousands of soldiers have left their posts instead of firing on protesters, and they promise to wage guerrilla war against regime forces. Three months later, a handful of political opposition groups establish the Syrian National Council, aimed at toppling President Bashar al-Assad.

August-October 2011: Top U.S. and European leaders call for Assad to step down, saying Syria’s future “must be determined by its own people.” But in October, Russia and China veto a U.N. Security Council resolution tabled by the U.S. that would call for an immediate halt to violence and immediate sanctions.

December 2011 to February 2012: Suicide bombers kill 44 people in Damascus in blasts that bear the “blueprints of al Qaeda,” the government says. In February the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, praises Syrians for waging “jihad.” The message comes as thousands of rebels join more extreme groups now operating in the country, including Jabhat al-Nusra — a group with close links to al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq.

April 2012: Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan brokers a cease-fire plan calling for a halt to violence and the implementation of a political process to end the crisis, but the plan never gets off the ground.

June to July 2012: A top U.N. human rights official accuses Syria of engaging in crimes against humanity. A month later, Zaatari refugee camp opens in Jordan to house the thousands of refugees streaming across the border from Syria.

August 2012: Obama says President Assad will be crossing a “red line” if he uses chemical weapons against his own people in Syria. Syria has one of the largest and most advanced chemical warfare programs in the Arab world, according to experts.

February 2013: The U.S. promises to send food and medical supplies — but not weapons — to Syrian rebels. It’s the first such move since the conflict began two years ago, in an effort to hem in the radical Islamist groups vying for influence in Syria. More than 60,000 people are now dead and nearly a million have fled the country.

Spring 2013: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announces its arrival in northern Syria by seizing the city of Raqqa. The group began in 2004 as al Qaeda in Iraq, before rebranding as ISIS two years later. The aim of ISIS — led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — is to impose its strict Islamist ideology on Syrians in the areas it controls.

May 2013: The EU lifts its arms embargo on Syria, clearing the way for European nations to join Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries that have provided weapons or training to rebel groups in Syria. Russia, meanwhile, is shipping arms to the Syrian regime, and fighters from Hezbollah — the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group — pour into the country to prop up the regime in Syria, a key ally.

August 2013: Hundreds of people are killed in a suspected chemical weapons attack in rebel-held areas on the outskirts of Damascus. Obama asks Congress to authorize military action against Syria.

September 2013: U.S. airstrikes seem inevitable. Asked what, if anything, the Syrian regime can do to stop an attack, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Assad “could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” Russia immediately proposes putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control — a plan that staves off U.S. military action in the country for the time being.

February 2014: A second round of peace talks between the Syrian government, the opposition, and an array of world powers ends without a solution. At least 140,000 Syrians are now dead, opposition groups say, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

June 2014: ISIS announces the establishment of a caliphate (Islamic state) stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq. The group rebrands itself Islamic State and says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the leader of this new state. The declaration comes after ISIS seizes Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city.

August 2014: ISIS releases a video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley in Raqqa, Syria. Foley is the first of several Western journalists and aid workers to be murdered by the group over the next few months, including Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig.

September 2014: American jets begin bombing ISIS targets in Syria, including the group’s stronghold in Raqqa. The foreign partners participating in the strikes are Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

January 2015: Kurdish fighters retake Kobani, a key Syrian town on the Turkish border, after nearly four months of fighting with ISIS.

May-August 2015: ISIS seizes Palmyra and blows up many of the ancient desert city’s millennia-old temples and shrines. The group executes dozens of people in the city’s ancient amphitheater, and beheads an antiquities expert who refused to reveal the location of other archaeological treasures.

September 30, 2015: After weeks of bulking up its military presence in Syria, Russia launches airstrikes on rebel targets in the country for the first time.


Syrian Government Forces Launch Wide-Ranging Offensive

Syrian Government Forces Launch Wide-Ranging Offensive

Syrian Government Forces Launch Wide-Ranging Offensive

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s chief-of-staff on Thursday declared a wide-ranging ground offensive by government forces, a day after Russian airstrikes and cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea backed Damascus’ multipronged advance into two Syrian provinces.

In a rare televised speech, Gen. Ali Ayoub said the Russian strikes have facilitated an expanded military operation to eliminate “terrorists” — a term the Syrian government uses to refer to all armed opposition to President Bashar Assad.

The Syrian ground push got a boost after Russian warships launched the cruise missiles into Syria on Wednesday, bringing a major new military might into the war on the heels of Russian airstrikes that began last week.

The cruise missiles hit the provinces of Raqqa and Aleppo in the north and also Idlib province in the northwest, Russian officials said. The Islamic State group has strongholds in Raqqa and Aleppo, while Syria’s al-Qaida branch, the Nusra Front, has a strong presence in Idlib.

Moscow insists it is only striking militants but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian airstrikes in Idlib killed at least seven civilians on Wednesday. Previously, at least 40 civilians were killed on the first day of the Russian airstrikes last week.

“After the Russian airstrikes, which reduced the fighting ability of Daesh and other terrorist groups, the Arab Syrian armed forces kept the military initiative and formed armed ground troops, the most important of which is the fourth legion-raid,” Ayoub said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

He added: “Today, the Syrian Arab armed forces began a wide ranging attack with the aim of eliminating the terrorists groups and liberating the areas and towns that suffered from their scourge and crimes.”

Syrian activists said government troops pushed from areas they control in the rural part of Latakia, into rebel-held areas in the province that is the heartland of Assad’s family and Alawite minority group. Latakia is the third province to see ground operations since Wednesday.

The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, said the troops moved from the village of Jorin into other parts of rural Latakia and Sahl al-Ghab, a vital plain that lies between Latakia, Hama and Idlib provinces.

Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest, a coalition of rebel and militant groups that includes the Nusra Front, operates in the area. Foreign fighters, particularly from Asia and China’s ethnic Turkic Uighur minority, have also a strong presence in the area, according to Abdurrahman.

The Observatory chief said Thursday’s push was along the lines of rural Alawite villages there. The minority Alawites — an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which the Assad family belongs — make up most of the residents of the coastal Latakia and Tartous provinces.

Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV, which belongs to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and which fights alongside Assad’s troops in several areas in Syria, said the Syrian army seized control of al-Bahsa village in Hama on Thursday.

Wednesday’s ground offensive by the government focused on a number of towns and villages in rural Hama and northwestern Idlib province, sparking intense clashes. Activist Ahmad al-Ahmad said rebels repelled government troops from at least one village.

Syria’s conflict, which began as an uprising against Assad in March 2011 but descended into a full-blown civil war, has so far killed 250,000 people, according to the United Nations.

UN Security Council demanding aid access in Syria

UN Security Council demanding aid access in Syria

UNITED NATIONS — The president of the U.N. Security Council said Monday that many members are pressing to follow up on last week’s resolution to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons with a demand that the government allow immediate access for desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Australian Ambassador and council president Gary Quinlan said a draft Security Council statement calls for delivering access in “the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries …” if necessary to bypass meddling from President Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus.

The Security Council had been effectively deadlocked on the Syria crisis for more than two years until it unanimously adopted a resolution Friday endorsing a U.S.-Russian plan to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Russia and China had cast vetoes three times in the past to block council action on Syria. But with Syria facing a U.S. threat of military action in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, Russia relented and let the anti-chemical weapons resolution pass — with a key loophole. It called for consequences if Syria does not cooperate, but adopting sanctions or enforcement action would require the council to pass another sanction resolution, which Russia could then veto.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told The Associated Press that Russia approved of the draft statement on humanitarian aid as well. The statement would call for demilitarizing hospitals, schools and residential neighborhoods. It would condemn “increased terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties and destruction carried out by organizations and individuals associated with al-Qaida.”

It will also condemn “the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups.”

It stresses “the need to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights, and reaffirms that those who have committed or are otherwise responsible for such violations and abuses in Syria must be brought to justice.”

Quinlan said they decided to opt for quick passage of a non-binding statement to capitalize on the council’s new-found unity on Syria, rather than risk getting bogged down in prolonged negotiations for an enforceable resolution. Reports OPCW Reviewing Syria’s Chemical Weapons Inventory As U.S., Russia Try To Determine Next Steps Reports OPCW Reviewing Syria's Chemical Weapons Inventory As U.S., Russia Try To Determine Next Steps

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Technical experts at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were reviewing Saturday a further disclosure from Syria about its chemical weapons program.

A day earlier, the body that polices the global treaty outlawing chemical weapons said it had received a preliminary submission from Syria.

No details have been released of what is in the Syrian declarations, and OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan refused to give any more information about the latest submission.

Under a U.S.-Russia agreement aimed at swiftly ridding Syria of its chemical arsenal, Damascus had until Saturday to submit a full list to the organization of its chemical weapons and production facilities so they can be secured and destroyed.

U.S. officials said last week that Washington and Moscow agreed that Syria had roughly 1,000 metric tons (1,100 tons) of chemical weapons agents and precursors, including blister agents, such as sulfur and mustard gas and nerve agents like sarin.

In the aftermath of the U.N. report that concluded sarin had been used in an Aug. 21 attack in Damascus, the Hague-based chemical weapons watchdog is looking for ways to fast-track moves to secure and destroy Syria’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents as well as its production facilities.

However, diplomatic efforts to speed up the process are moving slowly. A meeting initially scheduled for Sunday at which the organization’s 41-nation executive council was to have discussed a U.S.-Russian plan to swiftly rid Syria of chemical weapons was postponed Friday. No new date has yet been set for the meeting and no reason given for its postponement.

Under the U.S.-Russia agreement brokered last weekend in Geneva, inspectors will be on the ground in Syria by November. During that month, they are to complete their initial assessment and all mixing and filling equipment for chemical weapons is to be destroyed. All components of the chemical weapons program are to be removed from the country or destroyed by mid-2014.

The destruction plan of action will be backed up by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday he talked to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about Syria’s chemical weapons.

“I had a fairly long conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov,” Kerry said in Washington. “We talked about the cooperation which we both agreed to continue to provide, moving not only toward the adoption of the OPCW rules and regulations, but also a resolution that is firm and strong within the United Nations. We will continue to work on that.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons polices a global treaty known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bars the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical arms. The organization relies on a global network of more than a dozen top laboratories to analyze field samples.

It has already overseen the destruction of large quantities of chemical weapons held by nations including the U.S. and Russia. Reports French President Francois Hollande Hasn’t Ruled Out ‘Military Option’ Against Syria Reports French President Francois Hollande Hasn't Ruled Out 'Military Option' Against Syria

PARIS — French President Francois Hollande hasn’t ruled out the “military option” against Syria, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flies to Paris for talks Monday on how to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpile.

In a televised address Sunday night, Hollande said: “The military option must remain; otherwise there will be no pressure.”

France, which has been at the forefront of international diplomacy on Syria, firmly backs the rebels and has strategic and historic interests in the region. It urged military action after a chemical attack on Aug. 21 that Paris and Washington blame on Bashar Assad’s government.

The diplomatic breakthrough, which has been seen to avert the threat of U.S. military action against Syria, came Saturday after American and Russian diplomats in Geneva agreed on a plan for Syria’s chemical weapons. France wasn’t present.

Hollande, Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Secretary William Hague will meet in Paris Monday to agree on a draft U.N. resolution that would set out how Syria can secure and destroy its stockpile.

But Hollande said there needs to be sanctions to coerce the Syrian regime into sticking to turning over its chemical weapons.

“It is necessary to include the threat of sanctions if the agreement and the aims of the Security Council resolution aren’t carried out,” he said.

“The next step, it has to be finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” he added.

Speaking from Beijing on Sunday, Fabius said questions over the deal remained, including what measures should be taken if the Syrian government fails to adhere to it.

After being first drafted in Paris, the U.N. resolution will then travel to Moscow to be validated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia and China have consistently blocked resolutions at the U.N. Security Council aimed at sanctioning Assad’s regime.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the 2 1/2 year Syrian conflict.