Newsbeat's guide to... Syria


Syrian flag

The President of Syria has accused the British government of stirring up the conflict in his country.

Bashar al-Assad has told the Sunday Times newspaper that the UK is "bullying and naive" in its approach to the situation there.

He repeated his offer of talks with the opposition but said he will not step down.

The UK says it supports the Syrian opposition but does not provide rebels with arms.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has described President Assad's interview as "deluded".

Why is Syria in civil war?

A ceasefire to end the violence in Syria started last April after being arranged by former UN chief Kofi Annan.

However, fighting continued despite the plan being agreed by both sides.

Syrian flag
Image caption Protests are taking place around the world against Syria's government

The International Committee of the Red Cross said last year that fighting had spread beyond the three hot spots of Idlib, Homs and Hama.

The organisation said the situation in Syria was now regarded as a "non-international armed conflict", a technical term for civil war.

The change in status means combatants will now be officially subject to the Geneva Conventions, leaving them more exposed to war crimes prosecutions.

The UN estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed in the uprising.

What does the opposition want?

Demonstrations began shortly after anti-government uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in mid-March 2011.

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 Western military action as in Libya?

President Bashar al-Assad
Image caption Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000 following the death of his father

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 Western 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 Alawite 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.