War in Syria: Five Years and Counting


Syria's complex civil war, which now involves numerous international actors and terrorist groups, began with pro-democracy protests in March 2011 against the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Since then over 250,000 people have lost their lives and millions of Syrians have been displaced both internally and externally. 

The 'red line' 

Despite having declared the use of chemical weapons a 'red line', President Barack Obama did not take military action against Syria after the country's government used chemical weapons against its own people in Damascus in August 2013. 

Instead, President Assad agreed to dismantle his arsenal of chemical weapons as part of a deal that came about after an apparently unprepared remark by Secretary of State John Kerry in September 2013 that the U.S may not take military action if the weapons were dismantled and destroyed. 

A deal, brokered with the help of Russia, was reached in September 2013. 

Stalemate and a power vacuum

With Syria's opposition forces fractured and the Assad regime having lost significant ground, the terror group ISIS emerged and declared a caliphate in Syria and Iraq in June 2014. 

U.S led coalition forces began airstrikes against ISIS targets in September 2014, while Russia began supporting the Assad regime against its opponents through airstrikes in September 2015. The Kremlin announced a pull back in March 2016, but its brief involvement helped the Assad regime regain a foothold in some key areas and consolidate what is left of its power. 

Peace talks aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict began in early 2016, while a cessation of hostilities was declared in March. 

Map of Syria


'Cessation of hostilities' in Syria agreed

  • The United States, Russia and other members of the International Syria Support Group have agreed a deal that will aim for a cessation of hostilities next week. 

  • Airstrikes on UN designated terror organisations, such as ISIS and Al Nusra, will continue under the agreement. 

  • The delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid to besieged areas will begin immediately.

Detainee deaths: Assad regime accused of war crimes

The Government has committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts. Based on the same conduct, war crimes have also been committed.
— Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic, UN Human Rights Council
  • A new UN report alleges that all sides in the Syrian conflict, including the government, armed opposition groups, ISIS and Al Nusra, have committed crimes against humanity through their treatment and killing of detainees. 

'Thousands' fleeing violence in Aleppo

  • Aid agencies say that thousands of people are fleeing the northern city of Aleppo as the Syrian government, backed by Russian air power, Hezbollah and Shia militias, mounts a large scale offensive on the rebel held area. 

  • The offensive began earlier this week and has seen a key rebel supply line to Turkey cut off. +

  • There has been speculation that the Assad regime will now seek to encircle and besiege the city. 

  • The UN said on Friday that 20,000 people had gathered Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey after fleeing Aleppo. +