Syria: The story of the conflict

  • Introduction
  • Protests
  • Bombardment
  • Refugees
  • Bombings
  • Massacres
  • Chemical attack
  • A nation divided
  • Protests

    The uprising has its roots in protests that erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.

    The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Bashar al-Assad's resignation as shown in this video report from May 2011.

    By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets in towns and cities across the country.

  • Bombardment

    The government did not wait long to use military force to crush dissent, sending tanks to Deraa in late March 2011. The crackdown intensified as protests spread. The video shows Homs in February 2012 as rockets and mortars hit homes in the Baba Amr district, a rebel stronghold. After a month of bombardment, which left an estimated 700 people dead, the rebels retreated.

    Fighting reached the capital Damascus and second city of Aleppo in 2012. Since then, the country has descended into civil war.

  • Refugees

    By August 2013, more than two million Syrians had fled over the country's borders to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq as well as North Africa - a jump of almost 1.8 million in 12 months.

    Around half of those forced to leave are children, UN agencies estimate, with about three-quarters of them under 11.

    A further 4.25 million people have been left internally displaced inside Syria.

  • Bombings

    A series of bombings on Syria's main cities in 2012 and beyond killed scores of people, according to the government. Many of the attacks targeted security facilities and officials blamed "terrorists" linked to al-Qaeda. Opposition activists, however, maintain that the security forces planted the bombs to discredit both the rebels and protesters. Analysts say this is not beyond the realms of possibility, but jihadist militants are operating in Syria and have claimed most of the blasts. A shadowy group called the al-Nusra Front said it was behind the twin suicide bombings that reportedly killed 55 people in Damascus in May 2012.

  • Massacres

    The UN has accused security forces and pro-government Shabiha militiamen of deliberately targeting civilians - violating international humanitarian law.

    One incident which caused international outcry was the killing of 108 people, including 49 children, near Houla, in May 2012. Witnesses said the victims were shot in their homes after the village was shelled in response to an anti-government demonstration. The government blamed "terrorists", but a UN inquiry said loyalist forces were likely responsible. Independent verification of such reports is very difficult.

  • Chemical attack

    On 21 August 2013, footage emerged of victims of an suspected chemical weapons attack on several Damascus suburbs. Hundreds were killed, foreign governments and activists said.

    Both sides blamed each other for the incident, potentially the deadliest of the conflict so far.

    However, the US and its allies made it clear they believed the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people on a large scale, raising the possibility of punitive military strikes.

Notes: Figures from the UK-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights include civilians, rebel fighters and security forces personnel. Those from the Violations Documentation Center (which works with the Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition activist network) and the opposition group Syrian Shuhada (Syrian Martyrs) include civilians and rebels' deaths, but not security forces personnel. Syrian Shuhada also counts unidentified bodies, the main reason its numbers are higher. Government figures include civilians, soldiers and police, but not rebels. Images: Getty, AP, AFP, Reuters

Produced by: Lucy Rodgers, James Longman, David Gritten, Salim Qurashi, Helene Sears, Marina Shchukina

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