What’s happening in Syria? What you need to know about the Syria crisis…
Syria’s war (watch the video): Who is fighting and why
The war in Syria has gone on for over five years and has claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people. It is being fought between soldiers who support the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and a group of fighters known as rebels, who don’t want him to be in power anymore. Because it is being fought between two sides within the same country, it is known as a civil war. There has been a significant battle taking part in the Syrian city of Aleppo recently, which is part of this conflict.
But why did the war in Syria start in the first place and what do both sides want?
How did it all start?
The trouble began in 2011 in the Syrian city of Deraa. It began because local people decided to protest after 15 schoolchildren were arrested – and reportedly tortured – for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall.
The protests were peaceful to begin with, calling for the release of the children, democracy and greater freedom for people in the country. The government responded angrily and, on 18 March 2011, the army opened fire on protesters, killing four people. The following day, they shot at mourners at the victims’ funerals, killing another person. People were shocked and angry at what had happened and soon the unrest spread to other parts of the country. In July 2012, the International Red Cross said the violence in Syria had become so widespread that it was in a state of civil war.
Have the protestors got what they wanted?
When the war first began, the protesters just wanted democracy and greater freedom. But once government forces opened fire on peaceful demonstrations, people demanded that President Bashar al-Assad resign. However, he refused to do this which made the protestors extremely angry. As the violence got worse, he offered to change some things about the way the country was run, but the protesters didn’t believe him. As President Assad still has a lot of people in Syria that support him and his government, the fighting continues as the protestors have not yet got what they want.
Who are the rebel fighters?
A little confusingly, there isn’t one single group of rebels fighting against President Assad and the government’s army. The opposition – that is, those who all want the president to step down – is made up of several kinds of people. These include groups of rebel fighters, political parties who disagree with Assad, and those living in exile who cannot return to the country. It is thought there could have been as many as 1,000 different groups opposing the government since the conflict began, with an estimated 100,000 fighters.
Is there anyone else involved?
Complicating the situation further, the crisis in Syria has become more than just a war between people who are for or against President Assad. In early 2014, in neighbouring Iraq, an extremist group that calls itself Islamic State – or IS – began to take over large areas of the country.
What is the group that calls itself Islamic State?
IS is a radical militant group which has used violence against anyone who doesn’t agree with their extreme views. They have also persecuted other groups, including Christians and Yazidis. They later moved into eastern Syria and, in the chaos of the war, they were able to gain land and power there too. Now, both Assad’s forces and the rebels are having to fight a separate conflict against the terrorist group IS at the same time.
To try and stop IS, in September 2014 the US, UK and other countries joined forces, using planes to attack their fighters on the ground in Iraq. These attacks are known as airstrikes. On Wednesday 2 December 2015, MPs voted in favour of military action in Syria against IS. The first airstrikes were carried out by RAF Tornado jets within hours of the vote in the House of Commons.
What has been the impact of the war on people living in Syria?
The war has meant that millions of ordinary people living in Syria have had to escape from their homes in order to find somewhere safer to live. Some have stayed in Syria, while others have left the country entirely. Syrian kids talk about their lives (watch the video). Many of those that remain in Syria have run away from the cities to seek safety in the countryside. Lots of children can no longer go to school because their schools have been destroyed or there are no teachers where they have moved to. Of those that have left Syria, many have fled to the neighbouring nations of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. When people are forced to leave the country where they live like this, they become known as refugees. The conflict in Syria has caused one of the largest refugee movements in recent history.
Many refugees have made the decision to try to reach Europe, which can be a long and dangerous journey. This is because some countries in Europe have said they will accept refugees who want to start a new life here.
In September 2015, a report showed Germany welcoming hundreds of migrants, while Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK would accept up to 20,000 people from Syrian refugee camps by 2020. France said it would take in 24,000 people. Millions of people both inside and outside Syria are in desperate need of help, but aid agencies say that getting aid to people inside the country is very difficult and dangerous.
In September 2016, a convoy of aid lorries was hit by an attack, meaning the UN announced it would be stopping all aid in Syria. People trying to carry on their lives in this country are in desperate need for the situation to change. Everyone in Syria will know people who have died in this conflict, but the exact number of those who are gone may never be known.
What else do we need to know about this war?
One other topic that has been widely discussed about the war in Syria is about the weapons that have been used. There is an international law which bans countries from using chemical weapons in warfare, as they are deemed too cruel to use on other human beings. However, it was reported that chemical weapons were used during the war in Syria (this was later confirmed), which caused a great deal of anger around the world. Other countries then had to decide how they were going to respond. The Syrian government denied that it was responsible. MPs in Westminster voted against responding to this with military action in Syria. The US and French governments discussed limited missile strikes against military targets. However, Russia has strong ties with President Assad’s Syrian government and has helped Syria in the past by supplying weapons.
In September 2013, Russia suggested that the Syrian government should give up its chemical weapons and agree to destroy them so they can never again be used. The process of destroying the weapons began in October 2013 and the people working on this project were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that month.
So what next for Syria?
It doesn’t look like the fighting is likely to end any time soon. There is a stalemate between the two sides. This means that the government forces and the rebel groups are unable to defeat each other or agree on the future. Caught in the middle of these wars, the Syrian people have lost their homes and members of their family.
Lots of countries are trying to continue to supply aid, such as food and emergency supplies, but the US and Britain said they had to stop all other support as they feared the equipment may be stolen by rebel groups, which they did not support. For now, discussions continue between powerful nations like the US, Russia, Britain and France, to try to work out if there is another way to help Syria achieve peace. But for the time being, the conflict continues.
Sources: QGN, CBBC News, Arabian Business, Gulf Agenices, BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, Reuters.