How Bashar Assad remained at helm as Syria was engulfed in 10 years of conflict

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How Bashar Assad Remained At Helm As Syria Was Engulfed In 10 Years Of Conflict
Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and his wife Asma (Syrian Presidency/AP), © AP/Press Association Images
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By Associated Press Reporters

Syrians are marking 10 years since peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s government erupted in March 2011, touching off a popular uprising that quickly turned into a full-blown civil war.

Despite a decade of fighting and a broken country, Mr Assad remains firmly in power.

Syria is economically devastated and divided into three parts.

An al-Qaida-linked group dominates the northwestern Idlib province, with Turkey-backed rebels controlling stretches along the Turkish border.

US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces hold around a quarter of the country in the northeast while Mr Assad controls the rest.

The conflict has killed around half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million, including more than five million who are refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries.


People fill plastic containers with water in Damascus (Hassan Ammar/AP)

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Here is a timeline of key events in Syria’s war:

– March 2011: Protests erupt in the city of Daraa over the detention of a group of boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti on their school walls.

On March 15, a rally is held in Damascus’ Old City.

On March 18, security forces fire at a protest in Daraa, killing four people in what activists say were the first deaths of the uprising.

Demonstrations spread, as does the crackdown.

– April 2011: Security forces raid a sit-in in Syria’s third-largest city, Homs, where thousands tried to recreate the mood of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of protests against Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

– July 18 2012: A bombing at the Syrian national security building in Damascus during a high-level government crisis meeting kills four top officials, including Mr Assad’s brother-in-law and the defence minister.

– July 2012: Fighting spreads to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial capital.

– August 20 2012: President Barack Obama says the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” that would change his calculus on intervening in the civil war.

– March 19 2013: Syria’s government and opposition trade accusations over a gas attack that killed 26 people, including more than a dozen soldiers, in the northern town of Khan al-Assal.

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A UN investigation later finds sarin nerve gas was used, but does not identify a culprit.


Then US President Barack Obama (right) said the use of chemical weapons would be a red line (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

– May 2013: Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group officially joins the Syrian conflict on Mr Assad’s side by attacking and later capturing the border town of Qusair.

– August 21 2013: A chemical attack in Damascus’ eastern Ghouta suburbs kills hundreds.

The US and others blame Syrian government forces.

Mr Obama threatens punitive strikes but later backs down.

– September 27 2013: The UN Security Council orders Syria to account for and destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, following a surprise deal between Washington and Moscow that averts US strikes.

– October 14 2013: Syria becomes a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, prohibiting it from producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.

– June 23 2014:
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it has removed the last of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons.

Syrian opposition officials maintain government stocks were not fully accounted for, and that it retained supplies.

– June 30 2014: The Islamic State group declares its so-called caliphate in areas it controls in Iraq and Syria.

The refugee crisis accelerates.


Displaced Syrian children play hopscotch outside their tent at a refugee camp in Bar Elias, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (Hussein Malla/AP)

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– September 23 2014: The US launches airstrikes on IS targets in Syria.

– March 28 2015:
Syria’s northwestern city of Idlib falls to Islamic militants led by al Qaida’s affiliate known as the Nusra Front.

– May 6 2015: Mr Assad acknowledges serious setbacks for his military.

– September 2 2015: The body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi is found on a Turkish beach, drawing attention to the plight of Syrian refugees taking desperate risks to reach the safety of Europe.

– September 30 2015: Russia begins launching air strikes in Syria in support of Assad’s forces.

– August 2016: Turkish forces cross into northern Syria, capturing areas along the border from the Islamic State group.

– December 2016: Syrian insurgents pull out of rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods of the northern city of Aleppo after a Russia-backed government offensive.

– April 4 2017: At least 58 die in what doctors say may have been a nerve gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib.

Witnesses say either Russian or Syrian Sukhoi jets carried out the attack.

Moscow and Damascus deny responsibility.


President Vladimir Putin addresses the troops at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria in 2017 (Mikhail Klimentyev/AP)

– April 6 2017: The US fires a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria in retaliation for the Khan Sheikhoun attack, the first direct American assault on the Syrian government.

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– May 2017: Rebels withdraw from the last neighbourhood they controlled in Homs, once dubbed the capital of the revolution.

– January 20 2018: Turkey begins a major military operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters in northern enclave of Afrin.

– April 2018: Syrian government forces capture eastern Ghouta, taking control of all Damascus suburbs and securing Mr Assad’s seat of power.

– April 14 2018: The US, Britain and France launch military strikes in Syria to punish Assad for an April 7 purported chemical weapons attack that activists say killed over 40 people in the Damascus suburb of Douma.

– October 10 2019:
Turkey begins a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria after US troops pulled back from the area.

– March 5 2020: The presidents of Russia and Turkey say they have reached agreement on a ceasefire in northwestern Syria, where escalating fighting had threatened to put their forces into direct conflict.

The truce also stopped a Russian-backed government offensive on Idlib, the last rebel stronghold.


Syrian government forces reinforcements arrive near the city of Ras al-Ayn, in the north of Syria (AP)

– June 17 2020: New sanctions known as the US Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, targeting those who lend support to Syrian military efforts in the war, go into effect.

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