Syria's Civil War Explained

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1 Syria's Civil War Explained By Al Jazeera on Word Count 1,002 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 after the conflict began, more than 450,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, more than a million injured, and over 12 million Syrians - half the country's prewar population - have been displaced from their homes. In 2011, what became known as the "Arab Spring" revolts 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 having written graffiti in support of the Arab Spring. One of the boys, 13-yearold Hamza al-khateeb, was killed after having been 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, defectors from the military announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group aiming to overthrow the government, and Syria began to slide into civil war. This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com. 1

2 What caused the uprising? Initially, lack of freedoms and economic woes fueled resentment of the Syrian government, and public anger was inflamed by the harsh crackdown on protesters. Successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt energized and gave hope to Syrian pro-democracy activists. Many Islamist movements were also strongly opposed to the Assads' rule. In 1982, Bashar al-assad's father, Hafez, ordered a military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama, which killed between 10,000-40,000 people and flattened much of the city. Even global warming has been claimed to have played a role in sparking the 2011 uprising. A severe drought plagued Syria from , spurring as many as 1.5 million people to migrate from the countryside into cities, which exacerbated poverty and social unrest. Although the initial protests were mostly non-sectarian, armed conflict led to the emergence of starker sectarian divisions. Minority religious groups tend to support the Assad government, while the overwhelming majority of opposition fighters are Sunni Muslims. Although most Syrians are Sunni Muslims, Syria's security establishment has long been dominated by members of the Alawite sect, of which Assad is a member. The sectarian split is reflected among regional actors' stances as well. The governments of majority-shia Iran and Iraq support Assad, as does Lebanon-based Hezbollah, while Sunni-majority 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 bombed targets of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group since In September 2015, Russia launched a bombing campaign against what it referred to as "terrorist groups" in Syria, which included ISIL, as well as rebel groups backed by western states. Russia has also deployed military advisers to shore up Assad's defenses. Several Arab states, along with Turkey, have provided weapons and materiel to rebel groups in Syria. Many of those fighting come from outside Syria. The ranks of ISIL include a sizeable number of fighters from around the world. Lebanese members of Hezbollah are fighting on the side of Assad, as are Iranian and Afghan fighters. This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com. 2

3 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 2013, which U.S. President Barack Obama had previously referred to as a "red line" that would prompt intervention. 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, 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, 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, ISIL, 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, that has pledged allegiance to al-qaeda, became empowered. Last July, al-nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-jolani announced his group's name has also changed to Jabhat Fateh al Sham, or The Front for liberation of al Sham. In 2013, ISIL emerged in northern and eastern Syria after overrunning large portions of Iraq. The group quickly gained international notoriety for its brutal executions and its energetic use of social media. Meanwhile, Kurdish groups in northern Syria are seeking self-rule in areas under their control. This has alarmed Turkey's government, which fears its large native Kurdish population may grow more restive and demand greater autonomy as a result. Last August, Turkish troops and special forces, backed by the Free Syria Army, launched operation "Euphrates Shield" against ISIL to liberate the strategic Syrian city of Jarablus on the border with Turkey. The Euphrates Shield operation is considered to be the first Turkish ground intervention in Syria since the Syrian crisis started in 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. This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com. 3

4 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. But 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 war ends will be a lengthy, extremely difficult process. This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com. 4

5 Quiz 1 Which option accurately states the relationship between two of the article's CENTRAL ideas? A combination of economic problems and harsh treatment by the Assad government led to uprisings that sparked Syria's civil war; however, recent territorial gains in Aleppo and Damascus by the Syrian government have put an end to much of the fighting. A combination of economic problems and harsh treatment by the Assad government led to uprisings that sparked Syria's civil war; since then, the war has been complicated by involvement of a number of factions fighting for different sides and polarizing the country. Syria's civil war began as part of the "Arab Spring" uprisings that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia; however, the response of the Syrian government has been marked by much more brutality than the reactions of the other governments. Syria's civil war began as part of the "Arab Spring" uprisings that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia; since then, a military crackdown on an Islamic group in Hama has caused a sectarian split between Muslim religious groups. 2 Which option provides an accurate and objective summary of the civil war's impact on Syrian civilians? Protesters were at first displaced from their homes by the government, but civilian life has returned to normal as the government contends with outside forces. Protesters were first harshly punished by the government, and citizens have since been forced to flee their homes in the wake of bombing and destruction. Citizens migrated from the countryside into cities at the start of the war in order to help the government, but have since fled back to the country to farm the nation's food supplies. Citizens migrated to cities as uprisings in other nations inspired peaceful protests, and they have remained safely in cities with the support of rebel troops trying to topple the government. 3 According to the article, each of the following has contributed to Syria's civil war EXCEPT: the loyal defense of members of the military the reaction of the government to peaceful protests a severe drought that spurred migration a sectarian split between religious groups This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com. 5

6 4 The article develops the impact of foreign intervention on the civil war in Syria in each of the following ways EXCEPT: by outlining the conflicting roles of the United States and Russia by noting the involvement of individuals joining the ranks of ISIL by explaining the extent of Turkish ground intervention against Kurds by describing the monuments destroyed by bombing campaigns This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com. 6

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