Within four and a half years of armed conflict, it has reported that there were more than 250,000 Syrians died. The crisis started with protest against the government before it advanced into what is now a full scale civil war. There were more than eleven million people were forced to flee from their homes as the group loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and against his rule fought each other, including the jihadist militants popularly known as Islamic state.
We are giving you a glimpse of the tragic story of Syria’s civil war.
Protests became intense
The cry for democracy protests started in March 2011 in the southern part of Deraa after some teenagers were arrested and tortured who allegedly painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. When security units opened fire on demonstrators and killed several, more protests were staged.
The chaos turned to nationwide protests which demanded the resignation of President Assad but the government used force to squash the protests. However, this has hardened the advocacy of the protesters. In 2011, there were thousands took to the streets their protest – nationwide.
The supporters of the opposition started to take up arms, initially to defend themselves which became to topple security forces from their local places.
Civil war was inevitable
These violence in the streets increased until the whole country turned into civil war as the rebels formed themselves to fight against the government forces to control the cities, towns, and even the countryside. The fight has reached the capital Damascus and then to the city of Aleppo in 2012.
On June 2013, UN reported that there were about 90,000 lives were lost during the conflict and in August 2015, the number has increased to 250,000. The crisis has escalated to more than just a battle between the pro- and anti- Assad but also the country’s Sunni who were against the President’s Shia Alawite sector which drew regional and world powers. And then there was the rising of the jihadist group Islamic state that has added to the crisis.
Collateral damage of war
According to UN commission of inquiry, all parties were involved in the war crimes which included torture, rape, murder, and disappearances which were supported with evidences. They were also charged with using civilian suffering like unavailability of basic food, health, and water services as a method of their war.
The UN Security Council asked all the parties concerned to stop the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated places but civilians continued to die in hundreds and thousands. Many of those who lost their lives were killed with barrels bombs which were dropped by the government aircrafts in rebel-held places which might have resulted to massacres.
Islamic state or IS was also charged by UN against its campaign of terror, who severely punished those who refused or violated their rules by executing publicly and even amputating their transgressors.
Their forces also carried mass killings of rival armed groups, security forces members and religious groups, and beheading their hostages which included some Westerners.
Use of chemical weapons
In August 2013, there were hundreds of civilians who were killed when rockets that were filled with nerve agent sarin were at some communities in Damascus. Western powers pointed out that these gruesome act could have been done by the government of Syria, however, the government pointed their fingers to rebels.
With the possibility of U.S. military engagement, President Assad concurred to full removal and destruction of the government’s chemical weapon arsenal. The campaign was finished the next year but the OPCW, or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons continued to record some activities that involved the use of toxic chemical during the conflict. Experts discovered that chlorine was employed “systematically and repeatedly” in fatal attacks on rebel-held places from April to July 2014.
The Islamic state was also charged with using homemade chemical weapons which included sulphur mustard. OPCW stated that the blister agent was also employed in the attack on northern area of Marea in August 2015 which killed an infant.
Records showed that there were more than 4.5 million civilians fled Syria since the conflict started, and most of them were children and women. Neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey had difficulty to cope with the huge number of refugees that were coming to their places. There was about 10 percent of refugees coming from Syria went to Europe for safety which only resulted to some political divisions since there were countries that argued over sharing the “problem.”
There was another 6.5 million individuals who were displaced in Syria where 1.2 million of them were forced to flee from their homes within 2015 only. U.N. stated that it would require a $3.2 billion to assist 13.5 million individuals including the six million children who need a type of humanitarian help inside Syria in 2016. There was approximately 70 percent of the population was without access to drinking water, one in three individuals could not meet food needs, and there was more than two million children were out of school, while four out of five people were living in poverty.
The fighting groups have complicated the problems and struggles by denying humanitarian units to reach civilians who are in need. It was reported that there was up to 4.5 million people in Syria were living in very remote places, including those close to 400,000 people in fifteen war-afflicted areas who have no access to life-saving assistance.
Rebels and jihadist have intensified their forces
The civil rebellion has progressed since it started where secular moderates were outnumbered by islamists and jihadists who used brutal methods that have the world’s outrage.
The Islamic state took advantage of the civil chaol and took control of huge areas in Syria and Iraq. In June 2014, it announced their establishment of a “caliphate” where several foreign fighters have engaged in their “war within a war” in Syria, fighting rebels and rival jihadists from al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra-Front, the government forces, and Kurdish forces.
It was in September 2014, a U.S. led alliance launched airstrikes in Syria to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic state. However, the alliance have avoided the attacks that could benefit the forces of President Assad. Russia started an air strike aimed at the opposition activists which killed most of the Western rebels and civilians.
Opposition groups were divided with the rival supporters who were fighting for who is more “powerful.” The notable alliance is the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces which is supported by some Western and Gulf Arab areas. But the exile party has minimal influence on the ground in Syria and its primacy was rejected by several opponents of President Assad.
The international community has previously concluded that only a political resolve could stop the civil crisis in Syria, hence, the UN Security Council called to implement the 2012 Geneva Communique envisioned a transitional governing body with executive powers “formed on the basis of mutual consent.”
Conference in 2014 called Geneva II failed after two rounds of the talks with Lakhdar Brahimi, UN special envoy, blamed the government of Syria who refused to discuss the demands of the opposition. Staffan de Mistura who replaced Mr. Brahimi concentrated on creating series of local ceasefires. His “freeze-zone” plan was dismissed but the three-year siege of the Homs suburb of al-Wair has ended in December 2015.
Simultaneously, the crisis with the Islamic state brought a momentum for political resolve in Syria. The Russia and U.S.A. made efforts to get representatives of the government and opposition to participate in “proximity talks: which was located in Geneva in January 2016 to talk with Security Council-endorsed blueprint for peace, ceasefire, and transitional period that concludes with an election.
What started as another Arab Spring revolt against the autocratic leader has turned into a violent proxy war in national and world powers. Iran and Russia came with an Alawite-led government of President Assad and increased their alliance. Tehran was thought to spend billions of dollars annually to boost President Assad power by giving military advisers, weapons, and credits and oil transfers. Meantime, Russia launched an airstrike against the opponents of President Assad.
The government of Syria has the support of the Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement in Lebanon providing strong support in the battlefield since 2013. The Sunni-dominated resistance drew different degrees of support from its global alliances such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, France, USA, and UK.
Until in 2015 when rebels asked for anti-aircraft weapons to stop the air strikes of the government but was denied by USA and its allies because they feared that it might led to the hands of jihadist militants. US created a programme that trains and give arms to 5,000 rebels to fight the IS but suffered series of setbacks before being abandoned.
This is a continuing story.