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Syrian civil war

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Syrian civil war

Part of the Arab Spring

Clockwise from top left: Protest in Idlib in support of the Free Syrian
Army; FSA members with captured tank in al-Qusayr; burning building in
Homs; Syrian Army checkpoint in Damascus.

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

15 March 2011 ongoing
(1 year, 9 months, 4 weeks and 6 days)
Location Syria
Result Ongoing


Syrian government Syrian National

Syrian Armed Forces
o Syrian Army
Free Syrian Army
o Syrian Navy
Supported by:
o Syrian Air Force
o Republican Guard
General Security Directorate (including border
Political Security Directorate clashes)

Shabiha Qatar[8]
Jaysh al-Shabi Saudi Arabia[8]

Iran[1][2] (For other forms of foreign

support, see here)
Revolutionary Guards

Foreign groups: Mujahideen[9]

Hezbollah[4] al-Nusra Front

PFLPGC[5] Ahrar al-Sham[10]
Iraqi Shi'ite militias[6] Ghuraba al-Sham[11]

(For other forms of foreign support, see Supported by:

Saudi Arabia[12]
Al-Qaeda in

Kurdish Democratic
Union Party

Popular Protection

For fighting between Kurdish

and rebel groups, see 2012
Syrian Kurdistan conflict

Commanders and leaders

Fd.Mar. Bashar al-Assad Moaz al-Khatib al-Hasani

Commander-in-Chief Leader of Syrian National
Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij
Deputy Commander in Chief George Sabra
Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayyoub Syrian National Council
Chief of the General Staff (SNC) Chairman
Gen. Dawoud Rajiha Gen. Salim Idris
Minister of Defense (August 2011 July Free Syrian Army Commander
2012) Col. Riad al-Asaad
Gen. Maher al-Assad Former Free Syrian Army
Republican Guard Commander Commander
Gen. Mohammad al-Shaar (WIA) Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh
Interior Minister Higher Military Council Head
Namir al-Assad Haitham al-Maleh
Shabiha Leader[15] Council of Syrian
Gen. Assef Shawkat Revolutionary Trustees Head
Deputy Defense Minister (September Col. Abdul Jabbar al-
2011 July 2012) Oqeidi
Ali Mamlouk Head of Aleppo Military
National Security Minister
Gen. Rustum Ghazaleh
Abu Eissa Ahmad al-
Political Security Directorate
Hasan Turkmani
Leader of Syrian Liberation
Deputy Vice President (until July 2012)
Front, Coalition of Farouq
Hisham Ikhtiyar
Brigades and Suqour al-Sham
Intelligence head (until July 2012) Col. Malik al-Kurdi
Deputy Commander-in-Chief
Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamadani of the Free Syrian Army
Commander of IRGC in Syria[16][17]

Ali Hussein Nassif

Commander of Hezbollah in Syria Abu Mohammad al-Golani
Leader of al-Nusra Front
Ahmed Jibril
PFLPGC commander

Salih Muslim Muhammad
Feysel Yusuf
Abdul Hakim Bashar


40,000 (by May 2012)[24]

70,000100,000 (by Sep
Syrian Armed Forces: 200,000 (by 2012)[25]
Nov 2011),[18]
120,000 (by Jan 2013)[19] 30,000 defectors
(by July 2012)[26]
General Security Directorate: 8,000 6,00010,000
Shabiha militiamen: 10,000 fighters Al-Nusra Front[27]
15,000 soldiers[20][21] 1,5003,000
Hezbollah: 1,500 5,000
[22] [23] fighters foreign Mujahideen[28]
Iraqi Shiites: 500 fighters[6] 4,0004,500 PYD

Casualties and losses

Syrian government

11,48713,276 soldiers and policemen

11,981 fighters killed (see
1,000 government officials killed[33]
9792,386 protesters
militiamen killed
[44][45] 34,422 protesters
730+ soldiers and
captured[34][35][36] Iran and Hezbollah and fighters captured

590 killed[37][38][39][40][41] PFLPGC

14+ killed[42][43]

43,342[46]46,068[30] Syrians killed overall (opposition claims)**

60,000 Syrians killed overall (January 2013 UN estimate)[47] 481 foreign

civilians killed (see here)

2 Turkish F4 Phantom pilots killed

1 Jordanian soldier killed[48] and 1 wounded[49]

1.2 million internally displaced[50]

417,327513,422 refugees[51]

*Number possibly higher due to the opposition counting rebels that were
not defectors as civilians.[52]
**Numbers do not include foreign combatants from both sides or Shabiha
militiamen who have been killed.[53]



Syrian civil war

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The Syrian civil war,[54] also referred to as the Syrian uprising,[55] is an ongoing armed conflict in Syria
between forces loyal to the Syrian 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, the present
personification of his family's decades-long rule, as well as the end to nearly five decades of Ba'ath Party

In April 2011, the Syrian Army was deployed to quell the uprising, and soldiers were ordered to open fire on
demonstrators. 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 an uprising of "armed terrorist groups and foreign mercenaries".[56] The
conflict has no clear fronts, with clashes taking place in many towns and cities across the country. [57]

The Arab League, United States, European Union, Arab Gulf States, and other countries condemned the
use of violence against the protesters. The Arab League suspended Syria's membership because of the
government's response to the crisis, but it 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.

On 2 January 2013, the United Nations stated that the war's death toll had exceeded 60,000. [47] According
to various opposition activist groups, between 46,070 and 59,215 people have been killed,[30][58] of which
about half were civilians, but also including 24,22026,010 armed combatants consisting of both the Syrian
Army and rebel forces,[30][31][32][59] up to 2,390 opposition protesters[44][45] and 1,000 government officials.[33]
By October 2012, up to 28,000 people had been reported missing, including civilians forcibly abducted by
government troops or security forces.[60] According to the UN, about 1.2 million Syrians have been
displaced within the country.[50] 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
were reports of widespread torture and psychological terror in state prisons.[61][62] International
organizations accused the government and Shabiha of severe human rights violations.[63] Anti-government
armed rebels were accused of human rights abuses as well.[64] Human rights groups report that the majority

of abuses have, however, been committed by the Syrian government's forces, and UN investigations have
concluded that the government's abuses are the greatest in both gravity and scale.[65][66][67]



1 Background
o 1.1 History
o 1.2 Demographics
o 1.3 Socioeconomics
o 1.4 Human rights
o 1.5 Arab Spring
2 Uprising and civil war
o 2.1 Beginnings of protests
o 2.2 Revolt and escalating protests
o 2.3 Domestic response
2.3.1 Arrests and torture
2.3.2 Concessions
2.3.3 Crackdown
2.3.4 Censorship of events
2.3.5 Propaganda
2.3.6 Military operations
o 2.4 Defections and resistance
o 2.5 Armed clashes spread
o 2.6 Escalation
o 2.7 Ceasefire attempt
o 2.8 Renewed fighting
o 2.9 Battles of Damascus and Aleppo
o 2.10 Rebel offensives
3 Non-state parties in the conflict
o 3.1 Shabiha
o 3.2 Free Syrian Army
o 3.3 Syrian National Coalition
o 3.4 Organized crime
o 3.5 Sectarianism
o 3.6 Kurdish groups
o 3.7 Palestinians
4 Foreign reaction and involvement
o 4.1 International reaction
o 4.2 Military support
4.2.1 Support for the opposition
4.2.2 Support for the Syrian government
o 4.3 Mujahideen
5 Impact
o 5.1 Deaths

o 5.2 Refugees
o 5.3 Human rights violations
o 5.4 Crime wave
o 5.5 Chemical weapons
o 5.6 Cultural heritage
o 5.7 Hunger
o 5.8 Effects on Lebanon
6 See also
7 References
8 Further reading
9 External links



Main article: Modern history of Syria

The [Socialist Ba'ath Party - Syria Region|Ba'ath Party] government came to power in 1964 after a
successful coup d'tat. In 1966, another coup overthrew the traditional leaders of the party, Michel Aflaq
and Salah al-Din al-Bitar.[68] 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 secular Ba'ath Party has
remained the dominant political authority in a virtual single-party state in Syria, and Syrian citizens may only
approve the President by referendum and until the government-controlled multi-party 2012 parliamentary
election could not vote in multi-party elections for the legislature.[69]

In 1982, at the height of a six-year Islamist armed insurgency throughout the country, Hafez al-Assad
conducted a scorched earth policy against Islamist-held quarters inside the town of Hama to quell an
uprising by the Sunni Islamist community, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and others.[70] This
ruthless crackdown became known as the Hama massacre, which left tens of thousands both armed
insurgents and civilians dead, although estimates of the death toll still vary.[71]

The issue of President Hafez al-Assad's succession prompted the 1999 Latakia protests,[72] when violent
protests and armed clashes erupted following the 1998 Syrian People's Assembly elections. The violent
events were an explosion of a long-running feud between Hafez al-Assad and his influential younger
brother Rifaat.[72] 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.[73] 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.[69]

Bashar al-Assad, who speaks English fluently and whose wife is a British-born and British-educated Sunni
Muslim,[56] initially inspired hopes for democratic and state reforms; a "Damascus Spring" of intense social
and political debate took place from July 2000 to August 2001.[74] 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.[75] 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 for a campaign of civil disobedience.[72] Opposition renewed in October 2005 when Syrian
Christian 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 reforms.[76]


Main article: Demographics of Syria

The Assad family comes from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that comprises an
estimated 12 percent of the total Syrian population.[77] It has maintained tight control on Syria's security
services, generating resentment among some Sunni Muslims,[78] a sect that makes up about three quarters
of Syria's population. Ethnic minority Syrian Kurds have also protested and complained over ethnic
discrimination and denial of their cultural and language rights. [79] When the uprising began, Bouthaina
Shaaban, a presidential adviser, blamed individual "radical extremist" Sunni clerics and "takfiri" preachers
for inciting Sunnis to revolt, such as Qatar-based Yusuf al-Qaradawi called for in his heated sermon in
Doha on 25 March.[80] The Syrian government allegedly has relied mostly on Alawite-dominated units of the
security services to fight the uprising. Assad's younger brother Maher al-Assad commands the army's elite
Fourth Armored Division, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, was the deputy minister of defense until
the latter's assassination in the 18 July 2012 Damascus bombing. 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 and more radical
Sunni areas.[81] These included cities with high poverty rates, such as Daraa and Homs, rural areas hit hard
by a drought in early 2011, and the poorer districts of large cities. Socio-economic inequality increased
significantly after free market policies were initiated by Hafez al-Assad in his late rule, and accelerated
during the rule of Bashar al-Assad. With emphasis on the service sector, the policies benefited a minority of
the nation's population, mostly people who had connections with the government, and people in the rich
Sunni merchant class of Damascus and Aleppo, the country's two largest cities.[81] Socioeconomic
complaints were reported, such as a deterioration in the country's standard of living and steep rises in
prices of commodities.[82] The country also faced particularly high youth unemployment rates.[83]

Human rights

Main article: Human rights in Syria

Ethno-religious composition of Syria[84]

Arab-Sunni (60%)
Arab-Alawite (12%)
Kurd-Sunni (9%)
Greek Orthodox Christian (9%)
Armenian-Christian (4%)
Druze (3%)
Arab-Ismaeli (2%)
Turcoman, Circassian Assyrian, Jewish, and others (1%)

The state of human rights in Syria has long been the subject of harsh criticism from global organizations. [85]
The country was under emergency rule from 1963 until 2011, effectively granting security forces sweeping
powers of arrest and detention.[86] 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 successful democratic change, with a
2010 report from Human Rights Watch stating that he had failed to substantially improve the state of
human rights since taking power ten years prior, although some minor aspects had been improved. [87] All
other political parties have remained banned, thereby leaving Syria a one-party state without free

Rights of expression, association and assembly are strictly controlled in Syria.[88] 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.[88] While al-Assad permitted radio stations to play Western
pop music, websites such as, 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.[89] However, a 2007 law requires Internet cafes to record all comments that users post on online
chat forums.[90]

Women and ethnic minorities have faced discrimination in the public sector.[88] 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 by a decree of
president Bashar al-Assad.[91] Several riots prompted increased tension in Syria's Kurdish areas since
2004. That year, riots broke out against the government in the northeastern Kurdish-Assyrian town 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,[92] with some claims indicating a casualty count of about 100 people. [93]
Occasional clashes between Kurdish protesters and security forces have since continued.

Arab Spring

Main article: 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.

Uprising and civil war

See also: Timeline of the Syrian civil war and Cities and towns during the Syrian civil war

Beginnings of protests

The Syrian Independence flag 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.[94]

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".[95] 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.[96]

On 3 February, a "Day of Rage" was called for in Syria from 45 February on social media websites
Facebook and Twitter; however, protests failed to materialize within the country itself. [97] Hundreds marched
in Al-Hasakah, but Syrian security forces dispersed the protest and arrested dozens of demonstrators.[98]

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.[99] 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.[100]

Revolt and escalating protests

Demonstration in Homs against Assad.

Pro-Assad rally in Lattakia

The protests, unrest and confrontations began in earnest on 15 March in the southern city of Daraa,
sometimes called the "Cradle of the Revolution". The 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.[101] Triggered by the incarceration and torture of several young students, the
mass protest clashed with local police.[102] The demonstrations and confrontations escalated on 18 March
after Friday prayers. With thousands demonstrating, the events resulted in several civilian deaths. On 20
March, a mob burned down the Ba'ath Party headquarters and other public buildings. Security forces
quickly responded, firing live ammunition on crowds, and attacking the focal points of the demonstrations.
The two-day assault resulted in the deaths of fifteen protestors.[84]

Meanwhile, minor protests occurred elsewhere in the country. Protesters demanded the release of political
prisoners, the abolition of Syria's 48-year emergency law, more freedoms, and an end to pervasive
government corruption.[103] On 16 March, some 200 people gathered in front of the Interior Ministry in

Damascus, calling for the release of political prisoners.[104] 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 cannons, beatings. 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.[99]

On 25 March, mass protests spread nation-wide, as demonstrators emerged after Friday prayers.[84] Over
100,000 people reportedly marched in Daraa,[105] but at least 20 protesters were reportedly killed. Protests
also spread to other Syrian cities, including Homs, Hama, Baniyas, Jasim, Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia.
Over 70 protesters in total were reported dead.[106]

Domestic response

Main article: Syrian reactions to the Syrian civil war

Arrests and torture

Riot police in Damascus

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,[107] Abbas
Abbas,[108] and Adnan Mustafa.[109]

The police often responded to the protests violently, not only using water cannons and tear gas, but also
beating protesters and firing live ammunition.[110]

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. [111]

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.[112]


During March and April, the Syrian government, hoping to alleviate the unrest, offered political reforms and
policy changes. Authorities shortened mandatory army conscription, [113] and in an apparent attempt to
reduce corruption, fired the governor of Daraa.[114] The government announced it would release political
prisoners, cut taxes, raise the salaries of public sector workers, provide more press freedoms, and increase
job opportunities.[115] 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 niqab, and closed
the country's only casino.[116] The government also granted citizenship to thousands of Syrian Kurds
previously labeled "foreigners".[91]

A popular demand from protestors was an end of the nations 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 Syrias state of

Assad delivered a speech to the nation on January 6, 2013, standing before supporters at the Opera House
in Damascus.[118][119] In the speech he "outlined terms for a political solution to the country's bitter conflict,"
as part of which Assad indicated his support for an "international reconciliation conference" to end the
conflict, leading to a "national referendum and fair election," stating that this is the "only way" the political
landscape can be changed, and possible only if "[certain] western and regional" countries stop arming rebel
groups he characterized as terrorist. Assad said Syria will listen to advice, but will not be "dictated to" other


Opposition demonstration in Baniyas

Anti-government protests continued in April, with activists unsatisfied with what they considered vague
promises of reform from Assad.[121] During the month, the uprising became more extensive and more
violent, as the government sent security forces into restive towns and cities. Many protesters were arrested,
beaten, shot or killed. President Assad characterizes the opposition as armed terrorist groups with Islamist
"takfiri" extremist motives, portraying himself as the last guarantee for a secular government form. [122] Early
in the month, a large deployment of security forces prevented tent encampments in Latakia. Blockades
were set up in several cities, to prevent the movement of protests. Despite the crackdown, widespread
protests remained throughout the month in Daraa, Baniyas, Al-Qamishli, Homs, Douma and Harasta.[123]

Censorship of events

See also: Syrian media coverage of the Syrian civil war

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

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


Many observers of the conflict have stated that propaganda has been used by the Syrian government,[126]
opposition factions and since the beginning of the conflict. Although there are extremists fighting against
the government,[127] most independent media sources do not refer to the opposition as terrorists. However,
SANA, the Syrian governments official news agency, often refers to the opposition as armed gangs or
terrorists". The Syrian foreign ministry and Russia's foreign minister Larov viewed the U.S. Government's
statements concerning the danger of the Syrian Government using deadly chemical weapons against the
Syrian people as propaganda.[128] Similarly, other observers speculated that such U.S. statements might be
used as a pretext to launch a military intervention in Syria. [129] Jonathan Steele, an anti-Western writer on
the Guardian, takes it a step further by asserting that all of "western media's" reporting on the conflict is
propaganda.[130] It is also reported that SANA television interviews sometimes use government supporters
disguised as locals who stand near sites of destruction and claim that they were caused by rebel

Public school instructors teach students that the ongoing conflict is a foreign conspiracy something which
many people regard as propaganda.[132] There have been several occurrences of videos of violence
circulated by social media on both sides, but they have turned out to be footage from conflicts in other

Military operations

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, Daraa, which had become a focal point of
the uprising, was one of the first cities to be besieged by the Syrian Army. An estimated hundreds to 6,000
soldiers were deployed, firing live ammunition at demonstrators and searching house to house for
protestors.[134] Tanks were used for the first time against protestors, and snipers took positions on rooftops.
Mosques used as headquarters for demonstrators and organizers were especially targeted. [134] Security
forces began shutting off water, power and phone lines, and confiscating flour and food. Clashes between
the army and opposition forces, which included armed protestors and defected soldiers, led to the death of
hundreds.[135] About 600 people were arrested during the crackdown.[136] 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 Baniyas, Homs, Talkalakh, Latakia, and several other towns.[137]
After the end of each siege, the violent suppression of sporadic protests in the area continued throughout
the following months.[138][139]

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.[140]

Defections and resistance

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. The first defections occurred during the April
Daraa operation.[84] The number of defections would increase during the following months, as army
deserters began to group together to form fighting units. As the uprising progressed, opposition fighters
would become more well-equipped and organized, and senior military officers and government officials
began to defect as well to the opposition.[141] Some analysts stated that these defections were signs of
Assad's weakening inner circle.[142]

The first instance of armed insurrection occurred on 4 June in Jisr ash-Shugur, a city near the Turkish
border in Idlib province. Angry protestors set fire to a building where security forces had fired on a funeral
demonstration. Eight security officers died in the fire as demonstrators took control of a police station,
seizing weapons. Clashes between protestors and security forces continued in the following days. Some
security officers defected after secret police and intelligence agents executed soldiers who refused to shoot
civilians. On 6 June, Sunni militiamen and army defectors ambushed an group of security forces heading to
the city. More security officers were killed when the city's security headquarters was overrun. 120 security
forces were reported to be killed on that day. In response, the government sent troops supported by 200
military vehicles and helicopter gunships to the city. Fearing a massacre, insurgents and defectors, along
10,000 residents, fled across the Turkish border.[84]

In June, the Syrian Army expanded operations, and besieged Rastan and Talbiseh. Some besieged cities
and towns were described having famine-like conditions.[143] The army also besieged the northern cities of
Jisr ash-Shugur[144] and Maarat al-Numaan near the Turkish border.[145] The Syrian Army stated 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",[146] though local residents said the dead Syrian troops and
officers were executed for refusing to fire on protesters.[147] On 30 June, large protests erupted against the
Assad government in Aleppo, Syria's largest city, which were labeled the "Aleppo volcano". [148]

On 3 July, Syrian tanks were deployed at Hama two days after the city witnessed the largest demonstration
against Bashar al-Assad.[149] 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 nationwide crackdown nicknamed the "Ramadan Massacre" resulted in the death of at least
142 people and hundreds of injuries.[150]

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 secular 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.[151]

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.[25] The FSA would often launch attacks into Syrias
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.[102]

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.[152] 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.[153]

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.[154] The two cities' central squares
have seen organized rallies of hundreds of thousands in support of president Assad and his
government.[155] 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 autocratic counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia.[155]

Armed clashes spread

An FSA fighter in engaged in a firefight in Aleppo

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.[156]

A 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 town of Rastan in Homs province, which had been under opposition control for a couple weeks. [157]
There were reports of large numbers of defections in the city, and the FSA reported it had destroyed 17
armoured vehicles during clashes in Rastan, using RPGs and booby traps.[158] One rebel brigade reported
that it killed 80 loyalist soldiers in fighting.[159] 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.[158] The 2011 Battle of Rastan between the
government forces and the FSA was the longest and most intense action up until that time. After a week of
fighting, the FSA was forced to retreat from Rastan.[149] To avoid government forces, the leader of the FSA,
Col. Riad Asaad, retreated to the Turkish side of Syrian-Turkish border.[160]

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.[161] 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.[162][163] 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. [164] It was not clear if the
defectors linked to these incidents were connected to the FSA. [165]

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.

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. [166] Syria
remained suspended as the Arab League sent in December a commission "monitoring" Syria's violence on
protesters. 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.[99]


Syrian army checkpoint in Douma, January 2012.

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 Hama
province and Daraa province.[167] Rebels engaged in ambushes against Syrian soldiers, and security forces
conducted raids on towns where opposition forces were suspected to be hiding in. On 16 and 17
November, the FSA launched symbolic, deadly attacks on an air force intelligence complex in the
Damascus suburb of Harasta, and the Ba'ath party youth headquarters in Idlib province, using machine
guns and RPG's and firearms. In another symbolic attack on 20 November, opposition forces fired rocket-
propelled grenades at Ba'ath Party offices in Damascus.[168] On 25 November The FSA attacked on an
airbase in Homs province, causing several personnel casualties.

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. [169] However,
the opposition received setbacks as well. On 19 December, the FSA suffered its largest loss of life when
new defectors tried to abandon their positions and bases between the villages of Kensafra and Kefer Quaid
in Idlib province, leading to 72 defectors killed.[170]

Burning oil pipeline in Homs(16 FEB 2012)

By early 2012 daily protests had dwindled, eclipsed by the spread of armed conflict: [171] January saw
intensified clashes around the suburbs of Damascus, with the Syrian Army use of tanks and artillery
becoming common. Fighting in Zabadani began on 7 January when the Syrian Army stormed the town in
an attempt to rout out FSA presence. After the first phase of the battle ended with a ceasefire on 18
January, leaving the FSA in control of the town,[172] the FSA launched an offensive into nearby Douma.
Fighting in the town lasted from the 21 to 30 January, before the rebels were forced to retreat as result of a
government counteroffensive. Although, the Syrian Army managed to retake most of the suburbs, sporadic
fighting continued.[173]

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. [174]

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.[175]

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.[176]:11 Incommunicado detention, including of children, also continued. [177] 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.[178] 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[179] (Note: this map does not contain the situation in Syria's eastern
parts, due to lack of verified information. However, it has been reported that 90% of Deir ez-Zor province
and its main city are in rebel control as of 24 July 2012)[180]

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". [181]

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.[181]

On 5 June, fighting in Haffa and nearby villages broke in the coastal province of Latakia. Rebels fought with
government forces backed by helicopter gunships in the heaviest clashes in province since the revolt broke
out 15 months ago. Syrian forces seized the territory from rebels following an eight days of fighting and
shelling of Haffa.[182]

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.[183] The UN
observers rushed to the village in a hope to investigate the alleged massacre, but they were met with a
road-block and small arms fire before the village and were forced to retreat.[184]

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.[185]

On 22 June, a Turkish F-4 fighter jet was shot down by Syrian government forces.[186] Both pilots were
killed.[187] 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.[188] 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. [189] 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." [190]
Ankara acknowledged that the jet had flown over Syria for a short time, but they 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.[190] Assad later expressed regret over the incident.[191] 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.[192]

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. [193]
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. [194]

Battles of Damascus and Aleppo

Main articles: Battle of Damascus (2012), Battle of Aleppo (2012), and Rif Dimashq offensive

By mid-July fighting had spread across the country. Acknowledging this, the International Committee of the
Red Cross declared the conflict a civil war.[195] Fighting in Damascus intensified, with a major rebel push to
take the city.[196]

On 18 July, Syrian Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, former defense minister Hasan Turkmani, and the
president's brother-in-law General Assef Shawkat were killed by a bomb attack in the city.[197][198] The
Syrian intelligence chief Hisham Ikhtiyar who was injured in the same explosion later succumbed to his
wounds.[199] Both the FSA and Liwa al-Islam claimed responsibility for the assassination.[200] The fate of the
interior minister Mohammad al-Shaar was initially the subject of conflicting reports,[197] variously reporting
him as injured but alive,[201] and dead.[202] 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.[203] 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.[204]

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. [205] 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.[206] On the same day, Iraqi officials reported that the FSA 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.[207]

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.[208]

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.[209] On 1 August, the UN observers in Syria witnessed
government fighter jets firing on rebels in Aleppo, the country's largest city. [210]

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.[211]

In late September, the FSA moved its command headquarters from southern Turkey into rebel-controlled
areas of northern Syria.[212]

On 3 October 2012, a SyrianTurkish border clash ensued when a mortar shell fired from Syria hit a
residential neighborhood of the Turkish border town of Akakale.[213] Five Turkish citizens were killed, and
the Turkish military responded with artillery strikes against targets inside Syria. This was the most serious
cross-border escalation to date.[214]

On 9 October, rebel forces seized control of Maarat al-Numan, a strategic town in Idlib province on the
highway linking Damascus with Aleppo.[215]

By 18 October, the FSA had captured most of Douma, the biggest suburb of Damascus. Fighting and
bombardments continue in the town.[216]

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

Rebel offensives

Military situation in Syria, as of 11 January 2013.
Cities controlled by the Syrian government
Cities controlled by opposition or Kurdish forces
Ongoing conflict/unclear situation
Further information: Rif Dimashq offensive (November 2012present) and 2012 Hama 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.[217]

In early November, rebels made significant gains in Northern Syria. The rebel capture of Saraqib in Idlib
province, which lies on the strategic M5 highway, further cut off Aleppo city from government-controlled
areas.[218] Due to insufficient anti-aircraft weapons, rebel units adopted a strategy to weaken the
government's air power by destroying landed helicopters and aircraft on air bases. [219] On 3 November,
rebels launched an attack on the nearby Taftanaz air base, a core base for the Syrian military's helicopter
and bombing operations.[220]

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, claiming nearly 300 Syrian troops had been killed and
60 had been captured with rebels seizing large amounts of heavy weapons and tanks. [221]

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.[222]

On 29 November at approximately 10:26 UTC, the Syrian Internet and phone service was shut off for over
a two-day period.[223] There was much speculation that the Syrian government was responsible, however
state sources denied responsibility and blamed the blackout on fiber optic lines near Damascus becoming

exposed and damaged.[224] A set of five network blocks, all advertised by Tata Communications, survived
the outage for about 12 hours more than all others before also being shut down.

In mid-December 2012, American officials said that the Syrian military resorted to firing Scud ballistic
missiles at rebel fighters inside Syria, escalating a nearly two-year-old civil war. Reportedly Syria fired six
Scud missiles at the Sheikh Suleiman base north of Aleppo, which rebel forces had occupied. It is unclear
whether the Scuds, hit the intended target.[225] The government denied this claim.[226] Later that month
American officials said, Syria resumed firing Scud. Contacts inside Syria said that one Scud attack took
place on Thursday near Marea, a town in a rebel-held area north of Aleppo near the Turkish border. The
missile appeared to have missed its target.[225]

In mid-December 2012, the British Daily Telegraph reported that the FSA had now penetrated into Latakia
province's Mediterranean coast through Turkey, and that the Syrian government's forces were unable to
repel the FSA invasion thus far.[227]

In late-December 2012, rebel forces pushed further into Damascus, taking control of the adjoining Yarmouk
and Palestine refugee camps, pushing out fighters from the pro-government Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine-General Command with the help of other factions.[228] Rebel forces launched an
offensive against army positions in Hama province, claiming in the following days, to have forced army
regulars to evacuate several towns and bases[229] and later that "three-quarters of western rural Hama is
under our control."[230] Rebel forces captured the northern town of Harem near the Turkish border in Idlib
province, after weeks of heavy fighting.[231]

Non-state parties in the conflict


Main article: Shabiha

The Shabiha are pro-government militias, drawn largely from Assad's Alawite minority group, with roots in
80s. Since the uprising, the Syrian government has frequently used the group to break up protests and
enforce laws in restive neighborhoods.[232] As the protests escalated into an armed conflict, the opposition
started using the term shabiha to describe any civilian Assad supporter taking part in the government's
crackdown on the uprising.[233] These paramilitary groups are blamed by the Syrian opposition for the many
violent excesses committed against the anti-government protesters and opposition sympathizers,[233] as
well as looting and destruction.[234][235] In December 2012 they have been designated by US as a terrorist

Shabiha have been described as "a notorious Alawite paramilitary, who are accused of acting as unofficial
enforcers for Assad's regime";[237] "gunmen loyal to Assad",[238] and "semi-criminal gangs comprised of
thugs close to the regime".[238] Some shabiha operating in Aleppo have been reported to be Sunni,
however.[239] Bassel al-Assad is reported to have created the secretive militia for the government in times of

Free Syrian Army

Main article: Free Syrian Army

Free Syrian Army fighters being transported by pick up truck

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is the main armed opposition in Syria. Its formation was announced in late
July 2011, by a group of defecting Syrian Army officers. In a 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.[241] Many Syrian soldiers subsequently deserted to join the FSA. [242] 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.[243] 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".[244] 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.[245]

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.[246] Syrians have been crossing the border to Lebanon to buy weapons on the black market
since the beginning of the protests.[247] Clan leaders in Syria claim that the armed uprising is of a tribal,
revenge-based nature, not Islamist.[248] 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.[249] The main
centers of unrest 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.[250]

Daniel Byman believes the political and military opposition are each worryingly divided and disconnected
from each other,[251] 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.[252] 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.[253] Whichever view one accepts, there are undeniably
rivalries between different strands and disagreement between those advocating peaceful protests and
those backing armed struggle.[254][255]

Syrian National Coalition

Main article: National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces

Coalition members in Doha. In center, president al-Khatib, along with VPs Seif and Atassi, as well as all
SNC chairmen Ghalioun, Sieda and 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.[7] 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.[256]

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.[232]

Rebel forces sometimes relied on criminal networks to obtain weapons and supplies. Black market weapon
prices in Syrias 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


Main article: Sectarianism in the Syrian civil war

Syria Ethno-religious composition

Both the opposition and government have accused each other of employing sectarian agitation. The
successive governments of Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad have been closely associated with the
country's minority Alawite sect of Islam, whereas the majority of the population and thus most of the
opposition is Sunni, lending plausibility to such charges, even though both leaderships claim to be secular.
Some of the important opposition forces (such as the Muslim Brotherhood) have a religious basis which
has been seen as threatening to the Alawite and Christian minorities. Smaller opposition forces such as the
jihadist Al-Nusra Front take explicitly sectarian positions. The Turkish government has accused the Syrian
government of persecuting Turkmens living in Syria in response to Turkey's stance in the civil war.[257]

At the uprising's outset, some protesters reportedly chanted "Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the
coffin".[258][259] The government has been widely accused of fomenting sectarianism too. [260] In late 2012,
UN human rights investigators, stated that "In recent months, there has been a clear shift" in the nature of
the conflict, with more fighters and civilians on both sides describing the civil war in ethnic or religious
terms, "Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned
themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides". Concluded that Syrian civil war is
rapidly devolving into an "overtly sectarian" and ethnic conflict, raising the specter of reprisal killings and
prolonged violence that could last for years after the government falls. [261]

In mid 2012, 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 Assad and the leadership should Damascus finally fall.
Latakia province and Tartus province both have Alawite majority population and historically made up the
Alawite State that existed between 19201936. These areas had 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.[262][263] 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.[264]

In mid 2012, Christians living in Aleppo started to arm themselves, often supplied by the Syrian Army.
Christians feared the Islamists and the scenario that happened to the Christians in Iraq.[265] 80,000
Christians cleansed from their homes in Homs Governorate by the Free Syrian Army and other armed
Islamist rebel groups in March have gradually given up the prospect of ever returning home according to an
op-ed piece in the New York Times.[266]

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. [257] Alawites who have taken
refugee at the coast and in the 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.[257]

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 al-Assad. Locals claim that fighting began
when a local from the Othman clan protested the war to Mohammed al-Assad, a relative of Assad's father
and alleged Shabiha leader. Mohammed al Assad was greatly angered by this, and allegedly attacked the
family's home with several other gunmen. Not long after, a shootout ensued between the Othmans and
Mohammed al-Assad, resulting in Mohammed al-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 allegedly began popping up in Qardaha and Latakia, and the Syrian army sent soldiers and tanks to
try quell dissent in Qardaha.[267]

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

In October 2012, various Iraqi religious sects join the conflict in Syria on both sides. Radical Sunnis from
Iraq, have traveled to Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government.[268] Also,
Shiites from Iraq, in Babil Province and Diyala Province, have traveled to Damascus from Tehran, or from
the Shiite Islamic holy city of Najaf, Iraq to protect Sayyida Zeinab, an important mosque and shrine of Shia
Islam in Damascus.[268] According to Abu Mohamed, with the Sadrist Trend, said he recently received an
invitation from the Sadrists' leadership to discuss the shrine in Damascus.[268] 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.[268] Some of the pilgrims were former members
of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.[268] Some Shi'ite Muslims "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."[268]
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

Kurdish groups

Main article: 2012 Syrian Kurdistan conflict

See also: Syrian Kurdistan

Ra's al-'Ayn
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, mostly Sunni Muslims with a
small minority of Yezidis. 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.[269]: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.[270] This concession on citizenship, combined with Turkish endorsement of the opposition and
Kurdish under-representation in the Syrian National Council, has meant that Kurds have participated in the
civil war in smaller numbers than their Syrian Arab counterparts. [270][271] Consequently, violence and
repression in Kurdish areas has been less severe.[270][272] 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.[273] In terms of a post-Assad Syria, Kurds reportedly desire a
degree of autonomy within a decentralised state.[274]

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 by opposition members. 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, according to opposition activists' reports. [275]

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.[276]

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 and desire both neutrality and

In May 2012, a delegation of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), a coalition of ten Syrian-Kurdish
opposition 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.[278]

On 15 June, it was reported that Kurds had helped government soldiers defeat FSA fighters in the town of
Atma.[279] However, the head of Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) Salih Muslim, whose militia now control
much of Kurdish territories, claims that their group is not fighting on the 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, not intending to leave power until it kills all opposed Syrians. [280]

On 19 July, Kurdish militias from Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council
forced out government forces from several areas, including from the town of Ayn al-Arab, or Koban 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 the "liberation" of Kobane is beginning of battle for the whole of Syrian
Kurdistan and its autonomy.[281][282]

Iraqi Kurds and the Kurds in Syria have established control over their own regions with the help of the
Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers Party as well as with support from the Kurdistan Regional Government in
Irbil, under President Massoud Barzani.[283] The Syrian Kurdish enclave has been fighting westward to
secure an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea between the northern part of the Alawi region and the Syrian
border with Turkey.[283]


The reaction of the approximately 500,000[284] Palestinians living in Syria has been mixed. In the beginning
of the conflict, Syria's Palestinian community largely remained neutral in the conflict. However as the crisis
continued, most became sympathetic to the rebels' cause.[285] Ongoing government attacks and shelling
have caused any pro-Assad sympathies among the Palestinians in Syria to dwindle severely. [284] According
to the UN, 75% of the Palestinians in Syria have been harmed during the uprising and more than 600 of
them have been killed.[286] Although many Palestinians are appreciative of the full civil rights given to them
by the Syrian government, in comparison to other Arab states, these same rights have allowed the younger
generation of Palestinians to be "raised essentially as Syrians" who "find it hard not to be swept up in the
fervor on the streets" according to the New York Times.[287]

While major factions such as Hamas have turned against the Syrian government, other groups, particularly
the PFLP-General Command (PFLP-GC) have remained supportive. The PFLP-GC has been accused by
pro-rebel Palestinians of actively participating in the conflict as secret police in the refugee camps. [287] In
late October 2012, pro-rebel Palestinians formed the Storm Brigade with the task of wresting control of the
Yarmouk Camp in Damascus from pro-government groups.[288]

Foreign reaction and involvement

International reaction

Main article: International reactions to the Syrian civil war

The conflict in Syria received significant international attention. The Arab League,[289] European Union,[290]
Secretary-General of the United Nations,[291] 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.[292] Initially many Middle Eastern governments expressed support for Assad, but they
switched sides as the death toll mounted. Both the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab
League have suspended Syria from membership.

The US and its NATO allies have pressed for al-Assad's departure. Russia and China have consistently
blocked any United Nations resolution that would impose sanctions on Syria.[293] Russian officials stated
that plans for Syria's political future should not be forced on it from outside [293] and claimed that "terrorists"
are present within the opposition's ranks.[294] In December 2012, the Russian deputy foreign minister,
Mikhail Bogdanov, claimed Syria's government was "progressively losing control" and that "the victory of
the Syrian opposition cannot be excluded", although the Russian Foreign Ministry insisted soon after that
the country had not changed its position on Syria and "never will". [295] Iran also expressed support for

Military support

Main article: Foreign involvement in the Syrian civil war

In January 2013 a prisoner swap took place between the Syrian Rebels and the Syrian Government
authorities. According to reports, 48 Iranians were released by the Rebels in exchange for nearly 2,130
prisoners held by the Syrian Government. Rebels claimed the captives were linked to the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard.[296] US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described the Iranians as
members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, calling it just another example of how Iran continues to
provide guidance, expertise, personnel, technical capabilities to the Syrian regime.[297]

Support for the opposition

Turkey, once an ally of Syria, has condemned Assad over the violent crackdown and has requested his
departure from office. In October 2011, Turkey began sheltering the Free Syrian Army, offering the group a
safe zone and a base of operation. Together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey has also provided the
rebels with arms and other military equipment. Following border clashes between Turkey and Syria in late
2012, Turkey requested American Patriot missile batteries to help defend its borders against Syrian
aggression; the missiles were delivered by NATO in January 2013.[298]

In 2012, the United States,[299] United Kingdom[300] and France[301] provided opposition forces with non-
lethal military aid, including communications equipment and medical supplies. The U.K. was also reported
to have provided intelligence support from its Cyprus bases, revealing Syrian military movements to Turkish
officials, who then pass on the information to the FSA.[302] The CIA was reported to be involved in covert
operations along the Turkish-Syrian border, where agents investigated rebel groups, recommending arms
providers which groups to give aid to. Agents also helped opposition forces develop supply routes, and
provided them with communications training.[303] The majority of the weapons provided to rebel forces by
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have ended up in the hands of hardline Islamic jihadists, who it is feared will create
problems elsewhere once the Syrian conflict comes to a close.[12][304]

A crucial line of support began in spring 2012 as Saudi Arabia and Qatar announced they would begin
arming and bankrolling the opposition.[305] 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.[306] A ship carrying weapons from Libya believed destined
for Syria's rebels has also been intercepted.[307] Qatar is reported to be shipping arms to Sunni Islamists in
Syria as a means of cementing aliances in the Middle East.[308]

Support for the Syrian government

Russia, whose Tartus naval base and electronic surveillance facility in Latakia[309] are its only military
outposts outside the former Soviet Union, has supplied the Syrian government with arms as part of a
business contract signed before the uprising began. Most Syrian military equipment such as tanks,
missiles, and artillery was acquired from Russia which continues sales and support. [310] Russian-built air
defense systems and anti-aircraft missile batteries purchased by Syria have been upgraded by installation
of new equipment and modification of existing systems by Russian suppliers during the civil war;
sometimes these installations are manned by Russian military advisers.[309] According to Russian Ground

Forces Air Defense commander Major General Alexander Leonov Syria's Russian-supplied air defenses
are sophisticated and effective.[311] Overcoming them, as would be required in the event of threatened
intervention should Syria use chemical weapons, would be a major challenge to U.S. and NATO forces. [309]
Western diplomats have frequently criticized Russia's behavior, but Russia denied its actions have violated
any international law. Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Russia does not support either
side.[312] However, a Syrian jetliner returning from Moscow in October 2012 was forced to land in Ankara,
the Turkish capital, and the government of Turkey announced hours later that Russian munitions and
military equipment had been discovered aboard the aircraft and confiscated.[313] The Russian Foreign
Ministry denied that the cargo of the plane was sold to the Syrian military by the Russian government and
claimed that its shipping did not violate international sanctions, contrary to the Turkish assertion. [314] Later
in October, the Russian military demanded an inquiry into the source of the Syrian rebels' U.S.-made
Stinger surface-to-air missiles.[315]

Iran, an ally of Syria, has not only provided Syria with arms and technical support, but it has also sent
combat troops, specifically the Revolutionary Guards, to support Syrian military operations. [316] Technical
support has reportedly included unmanned aerial vehicles to guide Syrian military planes and gunners in
their bombarding of rebel positions.[317] It has been reported that Iran also trained fighters from Hezbollah, a
militant group based in Lebanon.[318] The fighters were deployed to Syria to attack rebels. Iraq, located
between Syria and Iran, was criticized by the U.S. for allowing Iran to ship military supplies to Syria over
Iraqi airspace.[319]

Some analysts have interpreted the Syrian conflict as part of a regional proxy war between Sunni states,
such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who support the Sunni-led opposition, and Iran and Hezbollah,
who support the Alawite-led (Alawite is a branch of Shia Islam) Syrian government.[320][321]

Russian, and former Soviet area, civilians as well as Iranian civilians were seen by some resistance leaders
and forces as legitimate targets; a position rejected by the Syrian opposition coalition. There are an
estimated 30,000 Russian civilians in Syria, and an additional 30,000 from former Soviet republics such as
Ukraine; they were widely dispersed throughout the country and vulnerable. Some such as Anhar
Kochneva, a journalist and blogger who was taken prisoner by Syrian rebels, and confessed under
pressure that she worked for Russian intelligence, have played a role in support of the Assad regime, but
many were simply common workers associated with the long cooperative relationship between Syria and
the Soviet Union, and, now, Russia. There were reports that the Russian government was sending a naval
evacuation fleet to Syria.[322]


There have been a number of foreign fighters that have joined the Syrian civil war in opposition to Assad.
While some are jihadists, others, such as Mahdi al-Harati, have joined to help the Syrian revolution.[323]
Some fighters have come from as far away as Chechnya and Tajikistan.[324] Another group, the Al-Nusra
Front, is headed by Abu Muhammad al-Julani[325] The group includes some of the rebellion's most battle-
hardened and effective fighters. However, U.S. has formally designated the Al Nusra Front, as a foreign
terrorist organization. "Extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra are a problem, an obstacle to finding the
political solution that Syria's going to need," said the American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. [326]



Main article: Casualties of the Syrian civil war

Total deaths over the course of the conflict in Syria (18 March 2011 21 December 2012)

Estimates of deaths in the conflict vary, with figures, per opposition activist groups, ranging from 46,070 to
59,215.[30][58] On 2 January 2013, the United Nations stated 60,000 had been killed. [47] U.N. High
Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay commented on the estimate in a statement saying "The
number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking,". [47]

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.[52][327][328] At least half of those killed
have been estimated to be combatants from both sides, including more than 7,200 government soldiers. In
addition, UNICEF reported that over 500 children had been killed by early February 2012. [329][330] Another
400 children have been reportedly arrested and tortured in Syrian prisons. [61][62] Both claims have been
contested by the Syrian government.[331] Additionally, over 600 detainees and political prisoners have died
under torture.[332] In mid-October 2012, the opposition activist group SOHR reported the number of children
killed in the conflict had risen to 2,300.[333]


Main article: Refugees of the Syrian civil war

In August 2012, the United Nations said more than one million people were internally displaced. [334] 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. [50]

Human rights violations

Main article: Human rights violations during the Syrian civil war

Weekly deaths over the course of the conflict in Syria (18 March 2011 21 December 2012)

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. [335]:4[176]:10[336]:1[337]:20 Some
violations are considered by many to be so serious, deliberate, and systematic as to constitute crimes
against humanity[176]:7[269]:5[337]:1820[338] and war crimes.[176]:7 According to Human Rights Watch, the Assad
government has created an "archipelago of torture centers".[339]: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.[269]:9[339]:1, 35 Human Rights Watch has also stated it has "evidence of ongoing" and increasing
"cluster bomb attacks" by Syrias air force.[340] The use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of cluster
munitions is prohibited by international treaty,[341] because of the bombs ability to randomly scattering
thousands of submunitions or "bomblets" over a vast area, many of them killing or maiming civilians long
after the conflict for which they were intended is over.[342]

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.[343]

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.[336]:45

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

As of July 2012, the human rights group Women Under Siege had documented over 100 cases of rape and
sexual assault in the conflict, with many of them believed to be perpetrated by the Shabiha and other pro-

government militias. Victims included men, women, and children, with about 80% of victims being women
and girls.[345][346]

Chemical weapons

Further information: Syria and weapons of mass destruction

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi in July 2012 stated that the Syrian armed forces would
never use chemical weapons against domestic Syrian opposition forces in the civil war, while stating that
the use of these same weapons remained as an option against "external aggression". [347]

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. [348] Countries such as the
United States have described the use of such weapons as a "red line" for the Ba'athist regime that would
result in "enormous consequences".[349] Similarly, France and the United Kingdom have promised
consequences in regards to the use of chemical weapons including military interventionism, with France in
particular promising a "massive and blistering" response.[350]

In September 2012, the Syrian military began moving chemical weapons from Damascus to the port city of
Tartus.[351][352] Also in September 2012, it was reported that the Syrian military had restarted testing of
chemical weapons at a base on the outskirts of Aleppo in August. [353]

On 28 September, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta stated that the Syrian regime had moved its CBW
weapons in order to "secure" them from approaching opposition forces. [354] Furthermore, it emerged that
the Russian government had helped set up communications between the United States and Syria
regarding the status of Syria's chemical weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Syria
had given the United States "explanations" and "assurances" that it was taking care of these weapons.[355]

On 8 December, it was reported that members of the jihadist al-Nusra Front had captured a Saudi-owned
toxic chemicals plant outside of Aleppo several days previously.[356]

Cultural heritage

Main article: List of heritage sites damaged during Syrian civil war

The civil war has caused damage to both Syrian cultural heritage and World Heritage Sites, which is
escalating as the conflict continues. Destruction of antiquities has been caused by shelling, army
entrenchment. and looting at various tells, museums, and monuments.[357] A group called Syrian
archaeological heritage under threat monitor and record the destruction in an attempt to create a list of
heritage sites damaged during Syrian civil war and bring the issue of protection and preservation of Syrian
archaeology and architecture to greater world attention.[358]


There is much evidence that President Bashar al-Assad's military have 'deliberately targeted bakeries, in
what appears to be official policy to starve rebel areas into submission.' [359] On 23 December 2012 a

government air-strike on Halfaya, a town near Hama, killed dozens of citizens queuing for bread. Human
Rights Watch had already accused the regime of targeting bakeries. [360]

Effects on Lebanon

Main article: 20112012 conflict in 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.[361]

On 17 September 2012, Syrian ground-attack aircraft fired three missiles 500 metres (1,600 ft) over the
border into Lebanese territory near Arsal. It was suggested that the jets were chasing rebels in the vicinity.
The attack prompted Lebanese President Michel Sleiman to launch an investigation, whilst not publicly
blaming Syria for the incident.[362]

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 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.[363][364]

On 11 October, four shells fired by the Syrian military hit Qaa, where previous shelling incidents had
caused fatalities.[365]

On 19 October, a car bomb exploded in central Beirut, killing a top Lebanese security official, Wissam al-
Hassan, who was suspected to be the main arms smuggler for the Syrian opposition.. At least 7 others
were killed and perhaps 80 were injured in the blast.[366]

Refugee children from Syria have been displaced into the border towns, threatening to overwhelm the
Beqaa educational system.[367]

See also

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