Syrian Civil War


As of  2016, over 1 in 10 Syrians have either lost their lives to or have been seriously injured as a result of the bloody civil war raging on since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2011. The Arab Spring rose from the resentment and frustration of Syrians towards their authoritarian government. This quickly spiraled out of control into a regional and international proxy war fought on the ground by a multitude of factions, each with their own agenda. The conflict grew from a full-scale war between the Syrian government and anti-government rebel groups, but has since spilled over into neighboring states and drew in outside parties. With a fractured opposition, the build-up of Kurdish forces in the North, a resurgent Syrian government, and the presence of Islamic fundamentalist militants, the hope for a peaceful resolution to this conflict seems further than ever.


Syrian Arab Republic
Approximately 18 million
Over 550,000
Refugees/Displaced People:

Over 5 million externally displaced in neighboring countries.

Almost 8 million internally displaced in Syria.

Combatants: Syrian Government/Military, Kurdish Forces (Rojava), ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), Syrian opposition forces

Key Actors

 Actively backed by Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah.
Russian airstrikes have been key in the Syrian government’s efforts to recapture lost territory from ISIS and the opposition forces. Russia has carried out many airstrikes and ensured the supply of arms, logistical support, and military advisors on the ground to aid the Syrian government. They have also provided political support in the UN Security Council.
Iran’s military has actively fought with the Syrian military, on the ground.
The Iranian backed Lebanese Shiite armed group, Hezbollah, has actively fought in support of the Syrian government.

A myriad of rebel brigades with varying ideologies, some of which are supported by the Turkish government and the U.S-led coalition. The prominent groups are the Free Syrian Army and Syrian Democratic Forces. The U.S.-led alliance has conducted over 9,000 airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL in Syria, which have also led to many non-combatant casualties.

This extreme militant group swiftly grew in power in 2015 as a splinter group of the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front. Having seized the opportunity to take advantage of a power vacuum in much of Syria, they fought the Syrian government, the opposition forces, and Kurdish forces alike. Though their rise was spontaneous and took both the Syrian and Iraqi governments by surprise, they have for the most part been defeated today, except for a few pockets of resistance. They have recruited as many as 30,000 foreign fighters to join the battle in Syria.

Supported by the U.S-led coalition (excluding Turkey) and the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq.

  • Kurdish political parties formed the YPG armed group to protect civilians in the Kurdish North. Recently they have worked cooperatively with the Syrian Democratic Forces formed up of Arab, Turkmen, and Kurd alike. While Kurdish forces have not been in much direct conflict with the Syrian government, they do aspire for a semi-autonomous Kurdish state in Northern Syria.

Has been a combatant of Israel but the Hashemite dynasty have also maintained communication with Israel even before peace treaties were signed, as they were in 1995-6

Similar to Jordan, has fought Israel but now has become a long standing ally and important strategic partner of Israel in the region, since signing a peace treaty in 1979

Donates millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority. Has played a prominent role in the Arab League’s alternative to the traditional US mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In recent times, antipathy towards the Iranians has brought the Israel and the Saudi governments closer together

Led the armed struggle against Israel for the Palestinian cause until secretly signing the Oslo Accords in 1993 with Israel. The movement has also engaged in intra-Palestinian tensions with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

There are a multitude of NGO’s on the ground in Syria, too many to account for. Some are more recognizable than others such as the U.N through its agencies and the Red Cross.

  • The UNHCR has been overwhelmed in its efforts to provide relief and resettlement in addressing the refugee crisis in Syria.
  • A local NGO known as the White Helmets evacuated and rescued civilians from the aftermath of airstrikes while being purposely targeted themselves.
  • Some NGO’s, such as the Red Cross, have played a direct role in the negotiation and brokering of ceasefires for the purpose of aid delivery into besieged civilian areas.


Protests erupt in Deraa on the back of the Arab Spring. Protestors were demanding the freedom of political prisoners and government reforms, though no call for Assad to step down was made. Protests are met with a brutal government crackdown, while Assad announces the implementation of some appeasing measures such as the lifting of the state of emergency and the dismissal of some government officials.

In response to the brutal government crackdown, protests spread across Syria and the government continues its hard-handed approach, while the Western powers begin to impose sanctions.The Syrian army is called upon from its barracks and is deployed in major cities across the country.

The Free Syrian Army is formed and sees many defectors from the Syrian army joining its ranks.

Then U.S President Barrack Obama calls upon Assad to resign and signs an executive order for all Syrian government assets in the U.S to be frozen.The Syrian National Council is formed and offers hope for a united opposition by bridging exiled opposition members with those in Syria.

Syria is suspended from the Arab League for failing to adopt a proposed peace plan, and faces sanctions from other members.

  • The shelling of Homs and other cities in Syria intensifies.

The U.N Security Council endorses a non-binding peace plan drafted by U.N Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

The shooting down of a Turkish jet by Syria increases tensions between the two, as Turkey declares any Syrian military forces approaching the border will be seen as a military threat.

The Syrian government declares that they face an armed opposition with extremists in their ranks backed by foreign powers. Fighting spreads to Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city.Free Syrian Army seizes Aleppo and assassinates three security high ranking military chiefs in Damascus.

Then U.S President Obama warns that any use of chemical weapons will push the U.S to intervene on the ground.Prime Minister Riad Hijab defects from the government and joins the Syrian political opposition.

A fire destroys much of the historic market in Aleppo.

National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces formed in Qatar, excluding Islamist militias.

US, Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf states formally recognize the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The Syrian government blames Israel for an airstrike on a Syrian military base near Damascus, suspected as being the origin point for anti-air weapons destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

A Sarin gas attack in the Northern town of Khan Assel kills 26 people, half of whom were government soldiers. Both the government and the rebels accuse each other of the attack.

A deadly chemical gas attack on the town of Ghouta in the outskirts of Damascus claims the lives of hundreds. The Syrian government is blamed for the attack, though this is disputed on their part as they blame the opposition.

The U.N Security Council threatens to intervene with force in Syria if their chemical weapon stockpiles are not destroyed. By Mid-October, Syria signs on to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“Non-Lethal” support for rebels in the North by the U.S and the U.K is suspended as a result of Islamist militants seizing the bases of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

U.S brokered peace talks in Geneva fail due to the Syrian government refusing to discuss any transition of power.

The Syrian army with the support of Hezbollah seize Yabroud, the last rebel held town on the Lebanese border.

The Islamic State proclaims its rule over lands stretching from Aleppo to Diyala province in Iraq. 

  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announces that all chemical weapons have been removed from the hands of the Syrian government, though the opposition disputes this.

The U.S and five Arab states begin launching airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria.

After a fierce four month battle, Kurdish forces push the Islamic State out of Kobane on the Turkish border.

The Islamic State seizes the historic town of Palmyra form the Syrian government, and proceeds to destroy the historical site and artifacts in the area.

Russia formerly enters the conflict by launching airstrikes against the Islamic State, though the U.S alleges that it also targets anti-Assad rebels.

The Syrian army allows the rebel evacuation of Homs, effectively returning Syria’s third largest city back into the hands of the government.

The Syrian army recaptures the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State with the aid of intense Russian airstrikes.

The Turkish army crosses into Syria to push back the Islamic State and Kurdish fighters.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran all agree to enforce a ceasefire between the government and non-Islamist rebels following talks in Kazakhstan.

58 civilians killed in a chemical gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, the government denies responsibility and blames rebels.

The U.S decides to begin arming the Kurdish YPG, a move which infuriates Turkey and regional powers.

The U.S shoots down a Syrian fighter jet near Raqqah after alleging it had dropped bombs on the U.S backed SDF.

Hezbollah and the Syrian army launch an offensive to expel the last remnants of the opposition from the Arsal region on the Lebanese border.

The Islamic State is expelled from its de facto capital of Raqqah.

Riad Hijab resigns from his position as the head of the High Negotiations Committee.

Turkey launches military operation against the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units—a group that played a key role in the defeat of ISIS.

 The Assad regime conducts an assault on rebel-held enclave in eastern Ghouta, near Damascus. 1,200 civilians are killed during the four week assault

More than 500 people are brought to medical centres in Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, following a suspected chemical attack in an area which has been blocked off. 42-60 people are believed to have died as a result of the attack. Despite international condemnation, both the Syrian government and Russia have denied any responsibility for the alleged attack.

 A UN report states that rebel forces committed crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghoutta. UN Investigators found that rebel forces had systemically starve the local population as a method of warfare and bombing civilian inhabitants.

As factions of rebels collapse in south Syria, northern factions of the Free Syrian Army announce a new coalition, the National Liberation Front

The Russia-Turkey agreement to create a buffer zone around Idlib goes into effect, attempting to de-escalate violence by government forces attempting to capture the rebel territory

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