Syrian Civil War


Overview

In mid-March 2011, protesters took to the streets of Damascus and Aleppo, demanding democratic forms which had been promised since the country’s President, Bashar al-Assad, came to power in 2000. Smaller scale protests had begun at the start of the year – coinciding with demonstrations in other Middle Eastern countries which had come to be dubbed part of the nascent ‘Arab Spring’ – however, these latter marches turned violent. Clashes on 20 March 2011 saw government troops fire on demonstrators in response to an attack on the ruling Ba’ath Party headquarters, killing 15. By June, thousands of government troops were assaulting the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour in response to the alleged killing of 120 police and soldiers. The following month saw the defection of officers from the Syrian Armed Forces to form the Free Syrian Army (FSA). There would be no peaceful transfer of power such as was seen in Tunisia earlier that year, but a civil war as in Libya. 

Unlike in Libya, however, there was to be no swift resolution to the initial phase of combat. By February the following year, the conflict had obtained a specifically sectarian character, with forces loyal to the Alawite President Assad attacking Sunni areas of Homs in a barrage of tank fire. Sectarian divisions in the country’s politics dated back at least as far as the presidency of Hafez al-Assad – father of the incumbent –who flooded the country’s intelligence and security services with fellow Alawites and altered the constitution to the effect that the President was no longer required to be a Muslim. Protests against these policies mutated quickly into an armed uprising against the government. Hafez’s crushing of the insurgency – which culminated in the brutal Hama Massacre in 1982, during which an estimated 10,000 people were killed – was being mirrored by his son’s army thirty years on. 

On this occasion, however, Syria’s border with Iraq represented an additional destabilising factor. The disastrous Western intervention in the latter country from 2003 onwards had toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, installing the Muhasasa in its place. This system of government distributed political power along sectarian lines, proportional to the numbers of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds in the population. Sunni Muslims, who had dominated state institutions under Saddam Hussein, suddenly found themselves in the political minority. Included within this minority was a substantial portion of the disbanded military, who would become ideal recruits for jihadist movements across the wider region. As a consequence, many who had initially joined the pro-democracy protests against Assad began to view him as the lesser of two evils when contrasted with various jihadist groups which were coming to dominate the Syrian opposition. By the end of 2012, the Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra had become the chief element in the Syrian insurgency, thanks in large part to significant funding and weapons supplies provided by Saudi Arabia from May of that year.  

The self-interested Saudi intervention would work as a catalyst to expose the cynicism and incredulity of other powers intervening in the conflict. The UK’s attempts in early 2013 to lift an EU arms embargo on rebel factions in the conflict, ostensibly designed to equip “moderates” in the Syrian opposition with a view to toppling Assad, were appearing at best foolhardy as Jihadist forces took control of the east of the country by March, rendering the Iraqi border a fiction. The FSA, which had been the object of the UK’s overtures and on whose behalf the country nearly committed itself to war in August 2013 after an alleged chemical weapons attack by government forces in Ghouta, all but ceased to exist as a fighting force by December that year. That month, a Saudi-backed Jihadist group, the Islamic Front, overran their Supreme Military Council in Bab al-Hawa, exposing what can charitably be described as the futility and wilful ignorance of Western policy to this point. A more cynical explanation would be that prolonged war in the country suited Western powers by keeping Iran and Hezbollah’s focus away from Israel and by removing a government broadly opposed to its interests in the region. This would certainly explain why the UK, US and France were willing to turn a blind eye to their allies, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, channelling military and financial materiel to jihadist groups operating throughout the country. 

The bungled approaches of foreign powers intervening in the conflict have only served to grossly exacerbate the gravity of the civil war. Attempts at convening conferences to negotiate a peace were merely performative spectacles. The Geneva II peace conference in January 2014 took place without the involvement of Iran, a major player with significant interests in the manner of the conflict‘s resolution. By contrast, the talks gave precedence to the FSA as representatives of the opposition, despite their previous month’s capitulation in the west of the country, and insisted on the government relinquishing power – a non-starter, given that it controlled 13 of the country’s 14 provincial capitals at the time. The worst impacts of foreign intervention were at this point, however, yet to be realised. Throughout 2014, the Islamic State (IS) would take advantage of widespread uncertainty and lawlessness to advance on government forces in both Iraq and Syria, declaring a worldwide caliphate and controlling a large territory which straddled the two countries’ nominal border. A US-led coalition began targeting the militants in mid-2014, with the UK parliament voting to join in December 2015 (an intervention which represented nearly the exact opposite policy of what parliament had almost approved two years earlier). 

The emergence of ISIL saw the interests of most intervening powers finally align. Although countries centred around the US on one hand, and those allied to Russia on the other, did not openly co-operate in the country, they both intervened to halt the spread of the jihadist organisation. By mid-2017, the group was losing key cities across Iraq and Syria and by March 2019, it had largely been defeated as an entity resembling a state. The changing dynamic of the conflict left Russia, who had supported President Assad from the conflict’s outset, with the greatest influence of the foreign powers who had intervened throughout the war. It had by now become apparent that Assad’s government looked set to remain in power and, in seeming recognition of this fact, Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops by October 2019. This withdrawal represented an abandonment of the US’ Kurdish allies in the north-west of the country and ushered in the latest phase of the conflict, during which Turkey has advanced into the Idlib Governorate. The prospect of a direct confrontation between Russian and Turkish forces represents the greatest present threat to wider regional stability stemming from the conflict, a risk which is presently being managed by a ceasefire negotiated by the Russian and Turkish Presidents in March 2020. 

Facts

Where:
Syrian Arab Republic
Population:
18.5 million
Deaths:

Over 570,000 (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights).

Refugees/Displaced People:

6.2 million displaced internally (UNHCR).

6.7 million refugees around the globe (UNHCR).

Combatants:

Syrian Government military, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia , USA, ISIS, Kurdish Forces and Syrian opposition forces.

Key Actors

Assad’s regime is the ruling elite that mainly consists of Alawites, which is a Shiite islamic sect followed by 12% of Syria’s population. Assad’s regime is backed up by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. They have used vicious tactics to oppress its opposition forces and supporters. Assad’s government went under investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons more than once since the conflict started. 

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.

Taking advantage of the chaos and instability caused by the war, ISIS took control of the eastern territory of Syria, declaring it an Islamic State. Since then the jihadist movement had been operating their attacks and recruiting fighters in the middle east region from their Syrian base. ISIS had been attacked by different forces including the US-led coalition and Assad’s alliances, which resulted in the defeat of the jihadist movement.

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 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

Originally opposed to Bashar Al-Assad, Saudi Arabia supported the opposition forces in Syria, going as far as funding Islamist groups like the Al-Nusra Front. With it becoming more clear that Al-Assad will win the war in Syria, Saudi Arabia and its allies have shifted focus to reaping some of the benefits of the post-war reconstruction period. Saudi Arabia and Syria under Bashar Al-Assad are now in a detente phase.

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.

Iran had played a key role in supporting Assad’s regime, they gave Assad military aid and had also actively fought the opposition forces on the ground. Iran’s support for Assad’s regime is due to religious similarity, as Iran’s population majority is Shiite. Additionally, Iran’s support for Assad is to ensure the Alawite political dominance to reduce Saudi Arabia’s Sunni influence in the region.

Russia supported Assad’s regime through airstrikes, which was the main reason behind recapturing territories controlled by ISIS and the opposition forces. Additionally, Russia provided political support to Assad in the UN Security Council (UNSC). The main reason behind Russia’s support is that the only Middle East military base that Russia has is in Syria. Russia has also had strong historical ties to the Assad family, going as far back as Syria’s independence.

Hezbollah is a Shiite armed group that supported Assad’s military on the ground given its religious support for Alawite and its strong ties with Iran’s government. 

The conflict had a strong effect on Jordan’s economy. The country could not handle the number of Syrian civilians who fled the war, according to the UNHCR reports, more than 600,000 Syrians are registered as refugees in Jordan. The countries lack of resources and economic strength had struggled to accommodate the Syrian refugees. Accordingly, Jordan responded by supporting the opposition forces and its allies to try to end the conflict.

The US supported the opposition forces and the Kurds after Assad’s regime started using chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. The US aid to the opposition forces and the Kurs was through providing air support, military intelligence, and special forces. The Main reason behind the US support was to support the opposition and the rebels in their fight against ISIS. The US did not have any boots on the ground or direct attacks on Assad’s regime in Syria during Barack Obama’s presidency period. However, in 2018, President Donald Trump ordered to launch an airstrike on Syrian military bases as a response to the alleged chemical weapon attack by Assad’s forces. 

Turkey played a key role in supporting the opposition forces as part of the US-led coalition that aimed to fund the opposition forces in order to take control of areas controlled by ISIS. Additionally, Turkey opposed the Kurdish forces in Syria, as their influence is seen as a threat to the Turkish government that may trigger protests by the Kurdish minority in Turkey asking for autonomy.

Opposed to Bashar Al-Assad and his regime in Syria, Qatar joined it’s gulf neighbours in opposing him and funding the myriad of opposition groups that were fighting him. While most of its neighbours have now accepted that they may have to work alongside Al-Assad in order to get an economic boost in the post-war reconstruction phase, Qatar has said it will not normalize relations with Syria under Bashar Al-Assad, nor support his re-admittance into the Arab League. 

Originally opposed to Bashar Al-Assad, the UAE, alongside its allies, supported the opposition forces in Syria, going as far as funding Islamist groups like the Al-Nusra Front. With it becoming more clear that Al-Assad will win the war in Syria, the UAE and its allies have shifted focus to reaping some of the benefits of the post-war reconstruction period. The UAE and Syria under Bashar Al-Assad are now in a detente phase, with the UAE pushing for Syria’s re-admittance into the Arab League. 

Timeline

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.

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 from the Syrian government, and proceeds to destroy the historical site and artifacts in the area.

Russia formally 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.

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 Syrian forces committed crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghoutta. UN Investigators found that Syrian 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

Lasting through January 10 2019, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) attacked and seized the positions of the National Liberation Front (NLF) across rebel-held Idlib and Aleppo. 

A Kurdish fighter was killed and two British special forces troops were seriously injured by an ISIS attack near the town of Deir al-Zour. The injured men were evacuated by US forces.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said, on a trip to Israel and Turkey, that the withdrawal of US troops from Syria depends on certain conditions, including the assurance that the remnants of ISIS forces are defeated and Kurds in northern Syria were safe from Turkish forces. However, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected the call to protect Kurdish troops, whom he regarded as terrorist groups. The SDF said that they’d caught and arrested two American ISIS fighters, along with suspected fighters from Ireland and Pakistan, who had been planning a terrorist attack on fleeing Syrian civilians.

A truce was reached between the two factions, with the NLF surrendering their last positions in Idlib to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and evacuating to areas under the control of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in Afrin. On January 10, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham took control of the remaining positions previously held by the NLF.

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo that the US would withdraw its troops from Syria while continuing the battle against ISIS, but warned that there would be no US reconstruction aid for areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad until Iran and its proxies had left.

A suicide bombing by an ISIS militant next to a US patrol in Kurdish-held Manbij killed 18 people, including four US service personnel, and wounded 18, on the same day that US vice-president Mike Pence claimed that ISIS had been defeated.

After many weeks of sporadic fighting as civilians left Baghuz, the SDF says the five-year “caliphate” was over and ISIS was now defeated in Syria.

ISIS reported that they had killed 35 government troops in Homs and Deir al-Zour provinces; SOHR reported 27 killed, saying that this was the largest attack since ISIL had been declared defeated. Thousands of ISIL fighters and their families captured from Baghuz remained in camps nearby.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence Michael Mulroy stated that the physical caliphate was defeated but ISIS was not and that there were over 10,000 completely unrepentant fighters left in Syria and Iraq. He expected the U.S. to be in Syria for the long haul with a very capable partner in the Syrian Democratic Forces. 

The Syrian Government, in coordination with the Russian Aerospace Forces, launched a ground offensive against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Jaysh al-Izza and National Front for Liberation-held territories in Northwestern Syria, in response to what it stated were repeated attacks on government-held areas, carried out by those groups from within the demilitarized zone.

A conditional ceasefire to end the bombing in Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib has been agreed upon after two days of negotiations in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan.

More than 30 Syrian government fighters have died in a blast at a military airport in central Syria, according to a monitoring group. The airfield was the alleged origin of a chemical attack on a rebel-held town in 2017.

Turkey will carry out an operation east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria, in an area controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia, as announced by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

A Syrian government fighter jet has been shot down by rebels in Idlib province, as Russia-backed government forces closed in on a strategically important town during a push on the last opposition stronghold. Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, the most powerful armed group in the area, said on Wednesday its fighters had shot down a Sukhoi 22 jet that had taken off from a Syrian airbase in Homs province.

Seven members of one family have been killed in Syria’s Idlib in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive against the last major rebel stronghold, according to a war monitor and activists.

Syrian regime forces entered a key northwestern town on Sunday amid intense fighting with jihadists and their rebel allies, which has left dozens of combatants dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported “fierce clashes” as it said regime ground troops penetrated Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province for the first time since they lost control of it in 2014. The latest fighting, which broke out overnight Saturday to Sunday, has already killed at least 59 jihadists and allied rebels as well as 28 members of pro-regime forces.

Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria say their forces have started to withdraw from outposts along the Turkish border after the United States and Turkey reached a deal to establish a “safe zone” there earlier this month.

Turkey will launch its own operation to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria if talks with the United States fail to give Turkish troops control of the area “within a few weeks”, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

The US says it has carried out an attack on leaders of a group it calls al-Qaeda in Syria, in the country’s rebel-held Idlib province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 18 Iranian and pro-Iranian fighters were killed. It was not clear who carried out the overnight strikes in and around the town of Albu Kamal. But Israel has carried out hundreds of attacks on Iranian-linked targets in Syria during the country’s civil war.

Report by UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria finds US, Syrian, and Russian forces could be responsible for war crimes.

This year’s Damascus International Fair – a commercial exhibition that resumed in 2017 after a five-year hiatus due to the Syrian civil war – was a grand social success. More than 1 million Syrians flocked to the fairground and toured the exhibits of firms from 30 countries during the 10-day event, which finished on Friday, September 6th. Sources in Hama say the economic situation in that city, Aleppo and Homs is better than in Damascus because they trade with the countryside and have revived small food and fabric industries.

U.S. President Donald Trump has given Turkish President Erodgan the greenlight to begin a military operation in northern Syria and create a safe zone” in the area by withdrawing U.S. troops from the area, in a statement released on twitter. The area is currently controlled by the Kurdish forces and their allies, and is home to the ethnic Kurdish population.

Turkey’s army has launched an offensive in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Wednesday, as part of an operation to move US-backed Kurdish forces away from its border.

The Syrian army has begun deploying its troops to northern Syria battlefronts to “confront a Turkish aggression” on Syrian territory, after the Kurds asked the Syrian government in Damascus for support.

The United States is poised to withdraw some 1,000 troops from northern Syria, its defense secretary said on Sunday, after learning that Turkey planned to extend its military incursion against Kurdish militia further south than originally planned.

Turkish forces approached a key Kurdish-held town in northern Syria on Sunday, setting off clashes that allowed hundreds of ISIS supporters to escape from a camp for displaced people near a U.S.-led coalition base.

Germany and France said Saturday they would not export any more weapons to Turkey that could be deployed in the country’s military operation in Syria.

One-hundred-and-fifty delegates representing Syria’s government, opposition and various sectors of civil society are meeting in Geneva to try to draft a new constitution. The UN says the talks will be “Syrian-owned and Syrian-led”, and could pave the way for reforms and elections. It suggests they might, eventually, lead to peace negotiations.

Russia and Turkey on Friday began jointly patrolling north-eastern Syria after a deal that stopped Turkey’s military offensive in the region and forced the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.

At least 13 people were killed by a car bomb in the northern Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, Turkish authorities said.

 An attack by Syrian government forces on the rebel-held area of Idlib in northwestern Syria this week killed at least 15 and wounded several at a displaced persons camp, rescue workers said.

Israel says it has hit dozens of targets in Syria belonging to the government and allied Iranian forces. The Israeli military says the “wide-scale strikes” responded to rockets fired by an Iranian unit into Israel. Syria says two civilians died and that Syrian air defences shot down most of the missiles over Damascus. Other reports say the death toll was higher.

The pound, worth 47 to the dollar just before Syria’s civil war broke out nearly nine years ago, plunged to 950 pounds to the dollar, weakening it by another 25% in the past few days. It fluctuated around 765 pounds to the dollar last week.

The pound’s fall has accelerated since mid-October, when Lebanon’s economic crisis worsened amid a wave of anti-government protests.

The United Arab Emirates has officially expressed its hope that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad wins his country’s civil war, further cementing a gradual shift by Abu Dhabi and other regional powers to back Damascus after initially supporting efforts to oust the Syrian leader.

Twenty-four civilians were killed by airstrikes and artillery fire in the opposition-held Syrian province of Idlib on Tuesday, first responders say. Nine people, including three children, died when warplanes bombed the town of Talmenes, the White Helmets reported.

Meanwhile, the wife and three children of one of the group’s volunteers were among six members of the same family killed when shells hit Badama village. An airstrike on the town of Maasaran reportedly killed another six people. Idlib is the last major region still held by rebel fighters and jihadists opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrians have fled by the thousands from the last rebel-held stronghold of Idlib as a government offensive, supported by Russian jets, intensifies.

US President Donald Trump has said that he ordered a precision strike to “terminate” a top Iranian commander who was plotting “imminent and sinister attacks” on Americans, adding that the decision was one of deterrence rather than aggression. 

“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” Trump said in a statement from his Mar-a-Lago resort, a day after a US drone strike on a Baghdad airport killed Qasem Soleimani.

Iran, in a letter to the United Nations, called the attack state terrorism and an unlawful criminal act.

President Tayyip Erdogan said that up to 250,000 migrants were fleeing toward Turkey from Syria’s northwest Idlib region after weeks of renewed bombardment by Russian and Syrian government forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to Damascus on Tuesday for a meeting with President Bashar Assad, a rare visit that comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and United States following the U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general.


While the official statements made during the previously unannounced visit made no mention of the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the timing was conspicuous.

Israeli jets have attacked the main T4 airbase in Homs province, the Syrian army said, adding that its air defences downed several missiles in an attack that caused material damage.

An army spokesman told state media on Tuesday that four Israeli missiles did reach the base but said air defences intercepted and destroyed several others.

At least 21 people were killed in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province as government forces and their Russian allies intensified an air offensive on the country’s northwest.

A new ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly nine-year conflict, went into effect but violence has continued, according to rescue workers operating in opposition-held areas.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday increased the punishment for transactions in foreign currencies to seven years of hard labour, the presidency said, as the Syrian pound has plummeted in recent weeks.

A new decree raised the “penalty for anybody who deals in anything other than the Syrian pound for payments, or any kind of commercial transaction”, it said.

Up to 40 Syrian soldiers have been killed in an assault by hundreds of militants in north-western Syria, according to Russia’s defence ministry.

The ministry, which supports Syria’s government, said there were several attacks in which the militants seized two settlements in Idlib province.

A US soldier has died in Syria, the US Defense Department announced.

Army Spc. Antonio I. Moore, 22, from Wilmington, North Carolina, died Friday, January 24 in Deir ez-Zor Province, Syria, according to a release by the department.

Tensions between U.S. and Russia military forces over gaining control over key oil fields in northeastern Syria are intensifying, as American troops blocked a Russian convoy trying to gain access to the oil fields for the fourth time in the last eight days.

Ten armoured vehicles carrying American soldiers stopped Russian military vehicles west of Al-Hasakah province while they were trying to reach the M4 highway to reach key oil fields in the province.

Following the incident, the Russian military sent a helicopter from the base in the town. In response, the U.S. military sent two helicopters to the area, forcing the Russian helicopter to land. The Russian military convoy then apparently turned back and returned to their home base.

Syrian government forces have taken control of several towns in northwestern Idlib province, a war monitor and Syrian state media reported, amid a renewed push by President Bashar al-Assad to recapture the last rebel stronghold.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Idlib in recent weeks amid stepped up airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces aimed at clearing the opposition from its last redoubt after almost nine years of civil war.

Israeli warplanes have fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus, Syrian state media report.

The Sana news agency said air defences intercepted most of the missiles, but that eight people were wounded.

A monitoring group said Syrian army positions and those of Iran-backed militias were hit, killing 23 people.

Five Turkish soldiers have been killed in an attack carried out by Syrian government forces in Syria’s northwest, prompting Ankara to retaliate against dozens of Syrian army targets. The Turkish defence ministry said Monday’s shelling on a military base in Idlib province, the last rebel-held stronghold in the war-torn country, wounded a further five troops.

“The parliament… condemns and recognizes the genocide committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman state at the start of the twentieth century,” the legislature said in a statement. The Turkish foreign ministry slammed the Syrian parliament’s resolution as “hypocrisy” from a country it said is responsible for the “massacre” of its own people and “well known for its use of chemical weapons.”

Syrian state media reports the death of all crew members of a military helicopter downed in the Aleppo countryside. The National Liberation Front claims responsibility for the attack.

Al Jazeera reports that, since December, as many as 800,000 have fled the embattled region, the majority of whom are stranded in overcrowded camps on the Turkish border.

As Syrian forces tighten their grip on the north-western Idlib Governorate, president Assad promises to continue the offensive until a “complete victory” is achieved. The numbers displaced since December reach 900,000 as refugees are forced to sleep outside in sub-zero temperatures. Turkey and Russia meet to discuss a settlement of the crisis.

The Turkish premier threatens to begin an offensive in Syria’s north-western province after talks with Russia fail to achieve “the desired result”.

Two Turkish soldiers are killed and five injured in Syrian air attacks near Idlib. Turkey responds by killing over 50 Syrian forces, according to the country’s defence ministry.

The Kremlin reports that the Turkish and Russian presidents come to an agreement to intensify talks about the growing crisis in Idlib as the UN warns that the nearly one million civilians stuck in the region could be trapped in a “bloodbath”.

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The Turkish president announces that a summit will take place on 5 March 2020 between the leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France, to discuss the predicament in north-western Syria. The announcement comes as Turkey confirms its 16th military casualty in the region in February due a Syrian aerial attack.

Israeli raids on the Syrian capital kill six people; two members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and four pro-Assad fighters.

Opposition fighters backed by the Turkish government recapture the north-western town of Nairab. The town is within 10km of Saraqib – a town situated at the junction of two key highways, the M4 and M5.

Several attacks by Russian and Syrian forces across the north-western Idlib governorate leave numerous civilians dead, including school teachers and children.

Three Turkish soldiers are killed during an offensive which retakes the key town of Saraqeb, at the junction of the M4 and M5 highways.

Meanwhile, a man, allegedly a member of the Syrian resistance to liberate the Golan Heights, is killed by an Israeli drone attack on a car in Syria’s south-western province of Quneitra.

Ankara vows that is will no longer prevent Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe after the loss of numerous soldiers in Idlib during the month of February. Greece and Bulgaria step up border patrols in response.

Turkey claims that it kills 309 Syrian government troops in response to a Syrian strike which kills 33 Turkish soldiers. NATO calls for a de-escalation of the violence.

Turkey shoots down two Syrian government planes over Idlib. Both pilots are allegedly unhurt as they parachute to safety.

Opposition to the Russian-backed Syrian government begin to retake ground in Idlib with the support of Turkish drones.

Russia mounts a heavy bombardment of Saraqib in an attempt to retake the key town.

The EU pledges funds to help Greece tackle the increase of migrants in the wake of Turkey’s decision to open its borders to Europe. The EU warns Erdogan against testing its “unity”.

Russia rejects accusations made by the UN Commission of Inquiry in Syria that aerial attacks in Idlib and rural Damascus constituted “war crimes”.

Backed by Russian airstrikes, government forces retake the key town of Saraqib. Turkey shoots down another Syrian plane in southern Idlib in response.

Two more Turkish soldiers are killed in Idlib the night before the Erdogan-Putin summit.

Following escalating tensions in Deraa and the deaths of at least 15 Syrian civilians in an air attack in the town of Maaret Misreen, the presidents of Russia and Turkey announce a ceasefire in Idlib from midnight on 5 March 2020.

Meanwhile, Turkey deploys 1,000 police officers to the Greek border in order to prevent Greece pushing migrants back into the country.

During talks in Brussels, the Turkish president calls on NATO and the EU to do more to help Turkey deal with the growing refugee crisis in the wake of the previous month’s heavy fighting in Idlib.

The Turkish president entreats the Russian government to take measures concerning minor breaches of the near week-long ceasefire in the Syrian province of Idlib, warning of a heavy military response should Turkish observation posts in the region come under fire.

The Syrian education ministry announces the closure of universities and schools as the country prepares for the effects of the coronavirus.

As the ceasefire holds, Al Jazeera reports that over half a million children have been displaced by the recent fighting. Some are forced to live in graveyards.

In accordance with the 5th March ceasefire agreement, Russia and Turkey begin joint patrols of the west-east M4 highway, which links the cities of Latakia and Aleppo. The intention is to prevent flare ups between Syrian government troops and rebel forces.

Meanwhile, the UN warns that more than 4.8 million children have been born into war since the Syrian conflict erupted more than 9 years ago.

A four-party video conference between the Turkish president and the premiers of France, Germany and the UK sees the leaders agree on issues regarding the conflict in Idlib, while still requiring “clarifications” on the approach to Syrian refugees.

A rocket attack in Syria’s Idlib province kills two Turkish soldiers, just two weeks into an agreed ceasefire. The Turkish defence ministry blames “radical groups” for the attack.

A 20-year-old woman in Damascus tests positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The woman is to be quarantined for two weeks while the country prepares to halt all public transport. The WHO announces testing will take in the country “within days”.

The UN’s special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, calls for a nationwide ceasefire to enable the country to prepare to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Pederson also urges “large-scale releases” of prisoners on humanitarian grounds.

Health officials in Syria warn of a potential for as many as 100,000 in the north-west of the country if they do not receive sufficient medical equipment and supplies.

Syrian air defences intercept numerous Israeli missiles over the mid-western governorate of Homs. The weapons were fired from Lebanese air space.

Turkey vows to minimise the movement of troops in neighbouring Syria in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

An internal inquiry by the UN finds that it is “highly probable” that several deadly attacks on health facilities in Idlib were carried out by forces aligned with the government of Bashar al-Assad.

The world’s chemical weapons watchdog blames the Syrian government for alleged chemical weapons’ attacks in Hama during March 2017. Their report claims that sarin and chlorine were used on the town of Latamneh. The EU threatens further sanctions against Syria in response.

The UN’s envoy for Syria calls on all warring parties to cease fighting to enable the country to mount a concerted fight against the coronavirus. Rebel-held areas are particularly vulnerable, with limited supplies and overstretched hospitals.

A car carrying Lebanese Hezbollah members is targeted by an Israeli drone near the Jdaidit Yabous crossing between Syria and Lebanon. No casualties are reported.

Reports emerge of personnel in Kurdish-held north-east Syria using rubbish bags to manufacture makeshift medical equipment.

Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, visits Syria, criticising the US decision not to lift sanctions on the two countries despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Numerous Israeli missiles are shot down over the ancient city of Palmyra in Homs Governorate, according to Syrian state media. The weapons were ostensibly fired at Iran-backed fighters believed to be operating in the area.

Turkish president Erdogan warns of a brutal retaliation against Syrian forces if they exploit the chaos caused by the coronavirus outbreak to break the 5 March ceasefire agreement.

The Higher Regional Court in Germany’s southwestern city of Koblenz begins the landmark trial of a former Syrian colonel, Anwar Raslan, who is accused of crimes against humanity. Eyad al-Gharib, who ostensibly worked below the colonel, also faces trial under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction.

At least three civilians are killed and four injured as Israeli warplanes fire missiles at Damascus from Lebanese airpspace.

A fuel truck explosion in the Turkish-controlled northern Syrian town of Afrin claims the lives of at least 46 people. The Turkish government blames the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) for the attack. 

The Turkish Foreign Ministry releases a statement condemning the UAE’s Middle East policy as “destructive” and “hostile”, referring specifically to the ongoing conflicts in Yemen and Syria. 

Nine Syrian policeman are killed in Muzayrib – a town in the southern province of Daraa. No group takes immediate responsibility for the act. 

A military barracks in al-Safirah, a town in the countryside of Aleppo, is hit by Israeli air strikes. Fourteen Iranian and Iraqi fighters are killed in the attacks. 

A report released by the UK-based human rights group, Amnesty International, accuses the Assad government and their Russian backers of “war crimes” during the previous year’s offensives on opposition-held territories in north-west Syria. The majority of documented attacks took place in January and February of this year, with civilians and medical facilities allegedly deliberately targeted.

Geir Pederson, the UN Syria envoy, calls upon Moscow and Washington to take advantage of the relative calm in the country to begin discussions towards a settlement that may end the near decade-long war.

The UN special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, announces an opportunity for the opposing sides in Syria’s long-running civil war to start healing their divisions during a relative lull in the conflict. He tells journalists that talks between the parties will begin in Geneva as “soon as the pandemic” allows. Such a meeting would represent the ninth round of peace talks in the Swiss city, in addition to twelve rounds held in Kazakhstan.

Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, the head of the country’s largest mobile operator Syriatel, is banned from travelling outside of the country amid allegations that he owes the state $185m.

For the first time since a ceasefire came into effect in March, Russia apparently launches air raids in rebel-held north-western Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) recorded several strikes overnight on the boundaries of the provinces of Idlib, Latakia and Hama. The north-west of the country continues to be under the control of the former al-Qaeda affiliate Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

An Israeli missile attack near the town of Masyaf on the countryside of Hama is thwarted by Syrian air defences. The attacks are part of growing attempts by Israel in recent week to check the alleged activities of Hezbollah in the country.

The Gerda Henkel Foundation and the Syrian Society for the Protection of Antiquities release a joint report revealing the extent of damage wrought on the country’s historical heritage during the ongoing civil war. The report documents extensive looting and destruction in addition to the illegal transfer of artefacts out of the country.

Meanwhile, air raids conducted by Russia in Syria’s north-western province of Idlib result in the deaths of at least two civilians, according to activists. These mark the first Russian military raids since the joint Russian and Turkish ceasefire brokered in March.​

Imad Khamis is dismissed without reason by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad following an economic downturn initiated in part by stricter US sanctions against the country. The move follows some relatively muted protests in government-held areas of the country.

Two soldiers are killed in Israeli air strikes against several military bases in Syria. The attacks, which hit three locations across the country, also leave four people wounded. The strikes are believed to be intended to undermine Iranian militias allegedly operating in the area.

The UN raises $7.7bn of aid for Syrians during a virtual donor conference, held in order to help both with those remaining in the country amid the ongoing 9-year war as well as refugees across the world. Although higher than what was expected, it the amount pledged falls short of the $10bn ideally needed by UN agencies operating in the country.

Iran, Turkey and Russia meet for the first time in almost a year to discuss potential political solutions to the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The discussions are held via video link and lead to a joint declaration rejecting a military resolution. Iran’s Rouhani also used the meeting to call for the withdrawal of US troops from the country, while Vladimir Putin denounced the US Caesar Act – which disciplines any country or individual doing business with the al-Assad government.

The UN alleges that war crimes were committed by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the sustained assault on the north-western province of Idlib at the beginning of this year and the end of last. Shelling attacks on markets and schools are mentioned in the report as causing “unfathomable suffering” and potentially constituting “crimes against humanity”.

China and Russia veto a UN Security Council Resolution proposing the continued use of two border crossings for another year, for the transfer of aid from Turkey to Syria. Having already been reduced from two crossing points earlier this year, the UN argues that a further reduction would lead to a deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the north-west of the country. Russia and China argue that such aid deliveries violate the country’s sovereignty, saying instead that the distribution of aid ought to be managed by Damascus.

A Russian motion to halve the border-crossing points in use for the delivery of aid to north-west Syria is rejected by the UN Security Council, with only four of its fifteen members voting in favour of the proposal. A new resolution proposing the continued use of two crossing points is expected to be tabled, with the current mandate for aid delivery expiring on 10 July.

Aid for displaced Syrians in the north-west of the country will now only be channelled through one crossing at the Turkish border, after the UN Security Council failed to overcome a Russian drive to close one of the previously operating crossings down.

An improvised explosive device (IED) hits a joint Russo-Turkish patrol of Syria’s north-western province of Idlib, injuring several troops. The device was set off in the south of the de-escalation zone, which has been jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops since March.

Syria holds parliamentary elections in all of the government-controlled regions of the country, with over 2,000 candidates standing for election. Opposition to the ruling Baath party of President Bashar al-Assad is scarce, with many parties boycotting the vote.

Meanwhile, an explosion near the Bab al-Salameh border crossing with Turkey kills at least five people and wounds many more. The area is controlled by rebel fighters opposed to the government of Assad.

The Israeli Air Force strikes an ammunition depot near Damascus. The depot, allegedly run by Iranian proxy forces in the country, is located in the suburbs of the capital, with the strikes constituting part of an undergoing assault against the Iranian military presence in the country with US approval.

The trial of Omar al-Bashir, who acquired the position of Sudanese President in 1989 by way of a coup which overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, begins in Khartoum. Al-Bashir was in power for over 30 years before being removed by the military following protests against his rule in 2019.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath party expectedly records a comfortable victory in Syria’s parliamentary elections in a result denounced by opposition leaders as a “theatre play”. The ruling party and its allies secured 177 of the available 250 seats on a 33% turnout.

The Turkish-held Syrian town of Ras al-Ain is hit by an explosion at a vegetable market. The blast kills 8 people and wounds a further 19, with Turkey’s defence ministry blaming the attack on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The US government announces further sanctions against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, aimed at drying up the President’s access to funds. The announcement includes a threat to blacklist anyone doing business with Assad until he agrees to support a negotiated end to his country’s 9-year civil war.

A car bomb targeting a checkpoint operated by forces supported by the Turkish government results in the deaths of five people in north-eastern Syria. The bombing in the village of Tal Halaf leaves a further 12 people wounded, with Turkish officials suggesting Syrian Kurdish fighters may have been responsible for the blast.

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