Syria's Civil War Explained

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1 Syria's Civil War Explained By Al Jazeera, adapted by Newsela staff on Word Count 1,166 A displaced Syrian child, fleeing from Deir Ezzor besieged by Islamic State (IS) group fighters, hangs on the back of a woman as she walks through a refugee camp in al-hol, located 14 kilometers from the Iraqi border in Syria's northeastern Hassakeh province, February 1, 2017\. Photo by: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images Five years since the conflict began, more than 450,000 Syrians have been killed in the Syrian Civil War. More than a million have been injured, and over 12 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes. That is equal to about half of the country's population before the war began. In 2011, revolts that became known as the "Arab Spring" toppled Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. That March, peaceful protests erupted in Syria as well, after 15 boys were detained and tortured for writing graffiti in support of the Arab Spring. One of the boys, 13-year-old Hamza al-khateeb, was killed after being brutally tortured. The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-assad, responded to the protests by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more. In July 2011, former military members announced the formation of a rebel group called the Free Syrian Army, aimed at overthrowing the government. From there, Syria began to slide into civil war. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 1

2 What caused the uprising? Initially, lack of freedoms and economic woes fueled resentment of the Syrian government, and the harsh crackdown on protesters increased public anger. Seemingly successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt gave Syrian pro-democracy activists hope. Many Islamist movements were also strongly opposed to the Assad family s rule. Though the term "Islamist" has come to be associated with violent extremism, not all Islamist movements are in fact violent. It is a broad term that refers to political activism based on the religion of Islam. Some Islamist groups, like the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), promote violence, but others are peaceful. Islamist groups may also be in favor of democratic principles like freedom of assembly and a free press. In 1982, Bashar al- Assad's father, Hafez, ordered a military crackdown on an Islamist organization called the Muslim Brotherhood. The military operation killed between 10,000-40,000 people. Climate is also considered to have played a role in sparking the 2011 uprising. A severe drought plagued Syria from It caused as many as 1.5 million people to migrate from the countryside into cities, which exacerbated poverty and social unrest. Just as Christianity has many denominations, there are different branches of Islam. Sunni is the largest branch, though Shiites make up a large minority. It's a divide that dates back centuries. Although most Syrians are Sunni Muslims, Syria's leadership, including the Assad family, has long been dominated by members of another branch, the Alawites. The Alawites broke off from the Shiite branch over 1,000 years ago. Today in Syria, the overwhelming majority of groups fighting against Assad's government are Sunni Muslims. Minority religious groups tend to support the Assad government. This split is reflected throughout the region. The governments of majority-shiite Iran and Iraq support Assad, as does the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Sunnimajority states including Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others staunchly support the rebels. The role of foreign involvement Foreign backing and open intervention have played a large role in Syria's civil war. An international coalition led by the United States has been bombing Islamic State targets since The Islamic State emerged in 2013 in northern and eastern Syria after overrunning large portions of Iraq. The group quickly gained international notice for its brutal executions and its energetic use of social media. Its fighters have attacked both government and opposition forces. Its goal is to create its own Islamic state across Iraq, Syria and beyond. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 2

3 In September 2015, Russia launched a bombing campaign against what it referred to as "terrorist groups" in Syria. It targeted the Islamic State as well as rebel groups that the United States supports. Russia has also deployed military advisers to help Assad. Several Arab states, along with Turkey, have provided weapons and materiel to rebel groups in Syria. Many of those fighting come from outside Syria. Among the Islamic State's ranks are a number of foreigners whom the group recruited. Lebanese members of Hezbollah are fighting on the side of Assad, as are Iranian and Afghan fighters. Although the U.S. has stated its opposition to the Assad government, it has hesitated to involve itself deeply in the conflict, even after the Assad government allegedly used chemical weapons in President Barack Obama had previously referred to chemical weapons as a "red line" that would prompt the United States to intervene. In October 2015, the U.S. scrapped its controversial program to train Syrian rebels, after it was revealed that it had spent $500 million but only trained 60 fighters. The situation today On November 26, 2016, the Syrian army launched a military offensive on Aleppo. In less than a month, Syrian troops, with unfettered Russian air support, were able to recapture 90 percent of the eastern part of Aleppo. On December 13, the Syrian army claimed that 98 percent of east Aleppo was in the hands of Syrian government forces. Besides Aleppo, the Syrian government currently controls the capital city of Damascus, parts of southern Syria and Deir Az Zor, much of the area near the Syrian-Lebanese border, and the northwestern coastal region. Rebel groups, the Islamic State and Kurdish forces control the rest of the country. Rebel groups continue to jockey against one another for power, and frequently fight each other. The Free Syrian Army has weakened as the war has progressed, while explicitly Islamist groups, such as the al-nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to the terrorist organization al-qaeda, became empowered. Last July, al-nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-jolani announced his group's name has changed to Jabhat Fateh al Sham, or The Front for liberation of al Sham. Meanwhile, Kurds, an ethnic group in the Middle East, are seeking self-rule in areas under their control within Syria. Most Kurdish people are Sunni Muslims and live in parts of Turkey, Iran and Iraq, in addition to Syria. This has alarmed Turkey's government, which fears its large native Kurdish population may demand greater autonomy as a result of the Syrian conflict. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 3

4 Last August, Turkish troops and special forces backed by the Free Syria Army, launched operation "Euphrates Shield" against the Islamic State. Its goal was to liberate the Syrian city of Jarablus, which is strategically located on Syria's border with Turkey. The Euphrates Shield operation is considered to be the first Turkish ground intervention in Syria since the crisis started. Effects beyond Syria's borders The Syrian war is creating profound effects far beyond the country's borders. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are now housing large and growing numbers of Syrian refugees, many of whom have attempted to journey onwards to Europe in search of better conditions. Fighting has occasionally spilled over from Syria into Lebanon, contributing to the country's political polarization. Several rounds of peace talks have failed to stop the fighting. With much of the country in ruins, millions of Syrians having fled abroad, and a population deeply traumatized by war, one thing is certain: Rebuilding Syria after the conflict ends will be a lengthy and extremely difficult process. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 4

5 Quiz 1 Which of the following MOST influenced the uprisings that began Syria's civil war? harsh repression by the government severe drought that harmed crops poverty and social unrest in cities splits in religious groups 2 Which selection from the article BEST develops the CENTRAL idea that the civil war in Syria has caused profound and far-reaching consequences? Most Kurdish people are Sunni Muslims and live in parts of Turkey, Iran and Iraq, in addition to Syria. This has alarmed Turkey's government, which fears its large native Kurdish population may demand greater autonomy as a result of the Syrian conflict. Last August, Turkish troops and special forces backed by the Free Syria Army launched operation "Euphrates Shield" against the Islamic State. Its goal was to liberate the Syrian city of Jarablus, which is strategically located on Syria's border with Turkey. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are now housing large and growing numbers of Syrian refugees, many of whom have attempted to journey onward to Europe in search of better conditions. Fighting has occasionally spilled over from Syria into Lebanon, contributing to the country's political polarization. Several rounds of peace talks have failed to stop the fighting. 3 Which CENTRAL idea is BEST supported by the following selection? Rebel groups continue to jockey against one another for power, and frequently fight each other. The Free Syrian Army has weakened as the war has progressed, while explicitly Islamist groups, such as the al- Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to the terrorist organization al-qaeda, became empowered. The war began because the Free Syrian Army wanted to overthrow the government. The war has been complicated by the involvement of many different factions. The war has had results that have frequently spilled past Syria's borders. The war has caused devastating destruction of major Syrian cities. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 5

6 4 Which of the following BEST represents the United States' approach to Syria's civil war? The United States has bombed Islamic State targets and stated its support for rebel groups. But it has not gotten deeply involved despite warning that it would do so. The United States has stated its opposition to the Assad government and support for rebel groups. But agreements with Russia prevented further actions. The United States has carried out a bombing campaign that targeted rebel groups and the Islamic State. But a controversial program caused it to back Assad. The United States has scrapped a program to train Syrian rebels and instead sent help to Assad. But it also continues to bomb Islamic State targets. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 6

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