Newsbeat's guide to... Syria


Free Syrian fighters

A group of Arab states has agreed to pay the salaries and other costs of the Free Syrian Army, which has been fighting against President Assad's rule in the country.

It was announced at a meeting in Istanbul of more than 70 countries who want political change.

Government officials in Syria have called those meeting in Turkey the "enemies of Syria".

Countries including Russia, China and Iran did not attend the talks.

Protests in Syria have been going on since March 2011.

The authorities have been internationally criticised for responding to the unrest with military force.

The government claims it is fighting "terrorist" groups and says at least 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

What do the protesters want?

President Bashar al-Assad
Image caption President Assad has promised changes but protesters don't believe him

The demonstrations began shortly after anti-government uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt last March.

A group of teenagers spray-painted a revolutionary slogan on a wall in the southern city of Deraa.

They were arrested and soon the unrest spread to other areas.

Protesters started by calling for democracy and freedom in what is one of the most repressive countries in the Arab world.

For example, there are emergency laws which allow people to be arrested without warrants and imprisoned without trials.

Syria's president has promised some changes but protesters say the killing is continuing so they want him to step down.

Mr Assad has described protesters as terrorists who need to be removed.

Why is there no foreign military action as in Libya?

Map of Syria

For decades Syria has been among the most stable countries in the Middle East.

It is a major player in the region because of where it's positioned, unlike Libya which is more isolated.

A military attack on Syria would cause knock-on effects in neighbouring countries.

It may mobilise militant groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and other more radical Palestinian groups opposed to peace with Israel.

Syria is also strongly supported by Iran - a country considered hostile by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia - which could potentially draw those powers into a dangerous Middle Eastern conflict.

President Bashar al-Assad has warned any foreign military action will turn Syria "into another Afghanistan".

Is there any support for the president inside Syria?

Syria is a mixed country of 21 million people with a large Sunni Muslim majority and minorities of Christians, Alawites and Jewish people.

Mr Assad belongs to the Alawaite sect.

He's supported by many people from the upper classes and minority groups.

The protests against him have mainly been in Sunni populated areas.

What action has been taken so far against Syria?

The Arab League - which is a group of 22 Arabic speaking countries - sent in 165 people to monitor the situation in December 2011.

They agreed a deal with Syrian officials to scale down the violence.

But they've accused the government of killing hundreds of civilians since the monitoring mission began.

They want the Syrian authorities to form a national unity government with the opposition - which has been refused.

The league temporarily pulled out of the country in January, blaming an upsurge in violence.

The UN believes at least 9,000 people have died in the year-long revolt against Mr Assad's rule.