What You Need to Know About the Crisis in Syria

How it started?
In March 2011, pro-democracy uprisings inspired by the Arab Spring erupted in the city of Deraa against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. The main causes for popular dissent were low standards of living and lack of political freedom in the country. The government’s use of deadly force to crush the demonstrations soon triggered nationwide protests demanding the president’s resignation.
As the crackdown intensified, opposition supporters began to take up arms. In turn, Assad vowed to crush “foreign-backed terrorism”. Hundreds of rebel brigades were formed to battle government forces and the country descended into civil war.
External Powers
The problem was further exacerbated by the interference of regional and world powers: Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US. Their military, financial and political support is contributing directly to the intensification of the fighting.
External powers have also been accused of fostering religious sectarianism in what was a broadly secular state, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect. This drove both sides to commit atrocities that have dimmed hopes for a political settlement.
For Russia, president Assad’s survival is crucial to maintaining its interests in Syria, while the US supports rebel groups hoping to establish a Western-oriented regime. Moreover, Assad is Iran’s closest Arab ally and this Shia power invests billions of dollars to his support. Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which is seeking to counter the influence of its rival Iran, has been a major provider of military and financial assistance to the rebels, including jihadists.
Jihadists
Rise of various Jihadist groups has added another dimension to the war.
Although the UK Parliament turned down the proposal for UK Government to take military action against Assad, since 2015 UK is part of the US-led coalition campaign against the terrorist group ISIS.
ISIS have suffered extensive losses in the past two years. However, it still controls large bands of northern and eastern Syria, battling government forces, rebel brigades and Kurdish militias, as well as facing air strikes by Russia and a US-led multinational coalition.
Meanwhile, Tahrir al-Sham, Salafist militant movement formerly affiliated with the al-Qaeda, rose to prominence in January 2017, after taking control over the large parts of the north-western province of Idlib.
Number of Victims
Almost 85% of Syrians live in poverty, more than two-thirds in extreme poverty. More than 12.8 million people require health assistance and more than seven million are food insecure. Some 4.9 million people live in besieged or hard-to-reach areas.

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