Newsbeat's guide to... Syria

19/09/13

Syrian flag

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he is committed to a plan to destroy his country's chemical weapons, but warned it could take a year.

Speaking to America's Fox News, Mr Assad also said the process could cost $1 billion (£622m).

In the interview he continued to deny claims that he was behind a deadly chemical attack near Damascus on 21 August.

The US still blames Assad's forces for the attack and wants to keep up the threat of military action if Syria fails to fulfil its promise.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Image caption President Bashar al-Assad says he is committed to destroying chemical weapons

The head of NATO, a military alliance of Western governments, has said that despite peace talks the option of strikes against Syria should still be present.

The UK Parliament voted against the idea of taking military action last month.

President Assad's comments come as a roadside bomb attack in Homs, a city in western Syria, caused multiple deaths.

Fierce fighting has also been reported between two rebel groups in the north of the country.

In the town of Azaz, on a major supply route near the Turkish border, extremists from the al-Qaeda-linked group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, have reportedly clashed with fighters from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

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.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in July this year that 100,000 have been killed so far in the conflict.

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.

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