Background to Syria’s Civil War

Syria’s turmoil began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011. Assad “belongs to the minority Alawite sect (a Muslim minority group) and his government has been described as secular. He told the Wall Street Journal that he considered himself “anti-Israel” and “anti-West” and that because of these policies he was not in danger of being overthrown”.

Assad’s crackdown on protests sparked the current civil war. The upheaval spiralled into armed conflict as members of the military defected to join the demonstrators.

“Although most of the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) members are Sunni Arabs—Syria’s largest community—it includes battalions made up wholly or mostly of Kurds, Turkmen, Palestinians and Druzenel.” (Source: Wikipedia)

“Syria’s scattered anti-government groups struck a deal to form a unified opposition in November 2012. Their leader is Ahmad Jarba, a member of a prominent eastern Syrian tribe; Jarba also is reported to have close ties to Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qaeda-linked groups have claimed responsibility for suicide bombings on Syrian government targets during the civil war. These groups have fought each other, as well as the FSA, (made up of defected army personnel); a sign of deepening cracks in the opposition movement.

In August 2013, the Assad regime was accused of using chemical weapons in an attack on Syrian civilians that killed around 150. After this, Obama authorized sending weapons to the Syrian rebels for the first time. A first round of talks by the UN managed to cause a stoppage of further use of chemical weapons but a second round of talks in Geneva in February 2014 ground to a halt when the Syrian regime refused to discuss opposition demands for an interim government to be formed.

Iraq has expressed fears, also shared by many Shiite Muslims, that Sunnis would come to dominate Syria should Assad be toppled. Assad’s regime is backed by Shiite powerhouse Iran, which has been building ties with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad (Iraq) in recent years.”
CBC News, 3.4.14

The Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces was designed to bring together members of various religious sects opposed to Assad. The U.S. and dozens of other countries have officially recognized the coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people. (My own summary)

The Present Refugee Situation Created by the Conflict:
“In the three years since conflict began in Syria, more than 2.7 million refugees have fled their homes. The crisis in Syria is the largest humanitarian operation in history. Thousands of Syrians seeking safety are pouring across borders each day. Within Syria, there are some 9.3 million people in need of assistance. This is one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history, and over half of these refugees are children.

Five years ago, Syria was the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country, however Syrians are now about to replace Afghans as the biggest refugee population worldwide.

“Syria has become the great tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history. The only solace is the humanity shown by the neighbouring countries (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq – italics mine) in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees.” – António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“As the exodus of Syrian refugees continues to escalate, humanitarian needs remain high. Many have lost relatives, their homes, belongings and livelihoods. When Syrian families finally arrive at a safe place, they are traumatised, scared and vulnerable.” (UNHCR website)

“Syria’s civil war is in its 3rd year, and there is no end in sight. An estimated 146,000 Syrians have been killed so far in the conflict. Of the 9 million Syrians displaced from their homes, some 2.5 million are now refugees living in squalid conditions in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. As the war rages on, the total number of Syrians internally displaced or refugees in another country now represents 40% of Syria’s pre-conflict population,” according to Christian Aid Mission.
Australian Prayer Network,5.5.2014

“With no end to the conflict in sight, Jordan, the United Nations and aid agencies have collaborated on the design and construction of a new village-style camp at Azraq, 100km east of the capital Amman. World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello said that Azraq’s accommodation is arranged into separate villages where families will live in semi-permanent shelters rather than tents, reducing a sense of temporary refuge that pervades most camps. “The opening of Azraq refugee camp marks yet another sober milestone in the three year crisis, which still sees up to 600 Syrians daily fleeing their homeland to Jordan,” Mr Costello said. “It’s a sad fact that we are now designing refugee camps for longer-term use, but it is an unfortunate reality given the scale of the prolonged conflict in Syria.”
Reported by Christian Today, Australia, dated 28.4.2014

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