The protest movement in Syria was at first modest, and took a while to gain momentum. The events began on 26 January 2011, when Hasan Ali Akleh from Al-Hasakah poured gasoline on himself and set himself on fire, in the same way Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi had in Tunis on 17 December 2010. According to eyewitnesses, the action was "a protest against the Syrian government". Two days later, on 28 January 2011, an evening demonstration was held in Ar-Raqqah to protest the killing of two soldiers of Kurdish descent.

On 3 February, a "Day of Rage" was called for in Syria from 4 to 5 February on social media websites Facebook and Twitter; however, protests failed to materialize within the country itself. Hundreds marched in Al-Hasakah, but Syrian security forces dispersed the protest and arrested dozens of demonstrators. Al Jazeera labeled Syria a "kingdom of silence", concluding that protests would not succeed due to the popularity of al-Assad and concerns over the prospects of insurgency like that seen in neighboring Iraq. A protest in late February at the Libyan Embassy in Damascus to demonstrate against the government of Muammar Gaddafi, facing his own major protests in Libya, was met with brutal beatings from Syrian police moving to disperse the demonstration against a friendly regime.


On 6 March, Time magazine suggested that all protests needed to explode into a full-fledged rebellion; this was considered a flashpoint. Ribal al-Assad said that it was almost time for Syria to be the next domino in the burgeoning Arab Spring. Indeed, on 15 March, the protest movement began to escalate, as simultaneous demonstrations took place in major cities across Syria. Increasingly, the city of Daraa became the focal point for the growing uprising. This city has been straining under the influx of internal refugees who were forced to leave their northeastern lands due to a drought which was exacerbated by the government's lack of provision. Over 100,000 people reportedly marched in Daraa on 25 March, but at least 20 protesters were reportedly killed. Protests also spread to other Syrian cities, including Homs, Hama, Baniyas, Jassem, Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia. Over 70 protesters in total were reported dead. Late in the month, the first signs were seen that the government was willing to make concessions to the protesters, when al-Assad announced the release of as many as 200 political prisoners. An Assad adviser said the emergency law would be lifted, and Assad accepted the official resignation of the government led by Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari. Assad denied the emergency law would be lifted at the end of March, however.

In April, the uprising became more extensive, and more violent. Protesters were shot at on 1 April, leading to at least 10 deaths. Well over 30 people were killed in a crackdown on protests on 8 April, activists and human rights groups claimed. Tens of thousands of protesters were prevented from entering Damascus from Douma on 15 April, though this restriction did not prevent widespread protests in many Syrian cities. Other cities where protesting was particularly strong were in Daraa, Baniyas, Al-Qamishli and Homs. There were also protests in Douma and Harasta, suburbs of Damascus. Firing throughout the country resulted 88 deaths among security forces and protesters, making it the bloodiest day so far.Tanks and soldiers entered Daraa and Douma and the border with Jordan was also closed. According to an activist, 18 people were killed in Daraa. Al Jazeera reported that some soldiers appeared to have been shot by their own comrades-in-arms after refusing orders to fire on protesters. On 29 April, more than 60 protesters were killed in demonstrations across Syria. The United States responded with harsh sanctions against the Syrian government.

Protests and military sieges

As protests continued, the Syrian government used tanks and snipers to force people off the streets. Water and electricity were shut off in the city of Daraa, and security forces began confiscating flour and food. A similar situation was reported in Homs. In May, the Syrian army entered the cities of Baniyas, Hama, Homs, Talkalakh, Latakia, the Al-Midan and Douma districts of Damascus, and several other towns.


Baniyas was besieged in early May, and divided into zones of de facto control, with protesters largely controlling the south and security forces enforcing the laws of the government in the north. Major demonstrations saw nearly 20 deaths on 6 May, and the government said 11 soldiers were shot by "armed groups" on the same day. The violent suppression of protests in Homs, Daraa, and other rebellious cities continued throughout the month. A 17 May report of claims by refugees coming from Telkalakh on the Lebanese border indicated that sectarian attacks may have been occurring. Sunni refugees said that uniformed Alawite Shabiha militiamen were killing Sunnis in the town of Telkalakh. The reporter also stated that according to arms dealers, "sales of black market weapons in Lebanon have skyrocketed in recent weeks driven almost entirely by demand in Syria."

Early June, the Syrian government said more than 20 Syrian demonstrators were shot dead at the Golan Heights by Israeli forces, when trying to cross the cease-fire line during Naksa Day demonstrations. This was perceived by Israelis as a way for the Syrian government to divert attention from the Syrian unrest by allowing demonstrators to reach all the way to the Golan Heights. The army also besieged the northern cities of Jisr ash-Shugur and Maarat al-Numaan near the Turkish border. The Syrian Army claimed the towns were the site of mass graves of Syrian security personnel killed during the uprising and justified the attacks as operations to rid the region of "armed gangs", though local residents claimed the dead Syrian troops and officers were executed for refusing to fire on protesters. The siege of Daraa continued in the meantime, with a French journalist reporting famine-like conditions in the town. On 20 June, in a speech lasting nearly an hour, in response to the demands of protesters and foreign pressure, Assad promised a "national dialogue" involving movement toward reform, new parliamentary elections, and greater freedoms. He also urged refugees to return home from Turkey, while assuring them amnesty and blaming all unrest on a small number of "saboteurs". The speech received mixed reactions domestically and abroad and was largely dismissed by protesters. On 30 June, large protests erupted against the Assad government in Aleppo (Syria's second largest city) which were labeled the "Aleppo volcano".


In mid-July, pro-government protesters attacked the US and French embassies in Damascus, responding to those countries' support for the opposition. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned both the attacks and the incumbent government, stating that al-Assad had "lost legitimacy," and that "President Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power." Attacks on protests continued throughout July, with government forces repeatedly firing at protester and employing tanks against demonstrations, as well as conducting arrests. On 31 July, a siege of Hama escalated during a so-called "Ramadan Massacre", in which at least 136 people were killed and hundreds wounded when Syrian forces attacked demonstrators across the country, employing tanks, artillery and snipers. Most of the deaths occurred in Hama.

Syrian forces continued to bombard Hama in early August, along with attacks in other cities and towns. On the first full weekend of Ramadan, the Arab League and several Gulf Cooperation Council member states led by Saudi Arabia broke their silence on the events in Syria to condemn the government's response. Throughout August, Syrian forces stormed major urban centers and outlying regions, and continued to attack protests.

On 14 August, the Syrian Navy became involved in the military crackdown. Gunboats fired heavy machine guns at waterfront districts in Latakia as ground troops and security agents backed by armor stormed several neighborhoods. Up to 28 people were killed. Eight more civilians were killed elsewhere in the country.

Throughout the next few days, the Siege of Latakia dragged on, with government forces and shabiha militia continuing to fire on civilians in the city, as well as throughout the country over the following days. On 30 August, during the first day of Eid ul-Fitr, thousands of people demonstrated in Homs, Daraa, and suburbs of Damascus. Nine people were killed when security forces fired on these demonstrations. Eid celebrations in the country were reportedly muted, with people trying to visit the graves of their loved ones being killed. Protests continued into the following months, with security forces and militia continuing to fire at demonstrators and raid towns and neighborhoods across the country.

On 7 October, prominent Kurdish rights activist Mishaal al-Tammo was assassinated when masked gunmen burst into his flat, with the Syrian government blamed for his death. At least 20 other civilians were also killed during crackdowns on demonstrations across the country. The next day, more than 50,000 mourners marched in Al-Qamishli to mark Tammo's funeral, and at least 14 were killed when security forces fired on them.

In August, The Jerusalem Post reported that protesters enraged at Hezbollah's support for Assad's government burned Hezbollah flags and images of its leader Hassan Nasrallah in several places in Syria. Pro-government protestors have carried posters of Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah states they support a process of reforms in Syria and that they also are against what they term US plots to destabilize and interfere in Syria.

Six months into the uprising, the inhabitants of Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, remain largely uninvolved in the anti-government protests. The two cities central squares have seen rallies in the tens of thousands in support of Assad and his government. Analysts and even opposition activists themselves acknowledge that without mass participation in the protest movement from these two cities, the government will survive and avoid the fate of its counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia.

Throughout August and September, Syrian forces continued to suppress protests, with hundreds of killings and arrests reportedly having taken place. The crackdown continued into the first three days of November. On 3 November, the government accepted an Arab League plan that aims to restore the peace in the country. According to members of the opposition, however, government forces continued their suppression of protests. Throughout the month, there were numerous reports of civilians taken from their homes turning up dead and mutilated, clashes between loyalist troops and defectors, and electric shocks and hot iron rods being used to torture detainees.

Protests and armed clashes

On 14 November, more than 70 people were killed across Syria as the army clashed with defectors and shot at civilians. Some 34 soldiers and 12 defectors were killed, along with 27 civilians.

On 9 November, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that the country could slip into "a Libyan-style civil war".

On 12 December, local elections under reformed electoral law were held amid the tensions.

Activists said security forces killed up to 70 army defectors on 19 December as they were deserting their military posts near the Turkish border. At least 30 other people died in other violence across the country, the activists said. If accurate, it would be one of the heaviest daily tolls of the entire revolt up until December.

On 23 December, two suicide bombs hit two security facilities in Damascus, killing 30 civilians and soldiers. The government stated the attack "carried the blue print of al-Qaeda", whereas opposition members blamed the government, and hinted that the government itself may have been behind the attacks to make its case to Arab League observers who arrived in the country only the day before. Government officials brought the advance team of Arab League observers to the scene to see the wreckage. Omar Idilbi, a member of the Syrian National Council thought the explosions "very mysterious because they happened in heavily guarded areas that are difficult to be penetrated by a car." Two days earlier, Lebanese authorities had warned that al-Qaeda members were entering Syria from North Lebanon.

On 6 January 2012, a suicide bomb attack in the central Damascus neighbourhood of al-Midan killed 26 people, most of whom were civilians. The Syrian government blamed the attack on terrorists and vowed to respond with an "iron fist" to security threats. Responsibility for the attack was later claimed by the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant.


On 11 January, a mortar attack on a pro-government rally in Homs killed a French journalist, Gilles Jacquier of France 2, and seven others.

On 27 January, Arab League observer mission reported on attacks carried out by opposition forces.

Recently, there have been incidents that could widen the gap and increase bitterness between the parties. These incidents can have grave consequences and lead to the loss of life and property. Such incidents include the bombing of buildings, trains carrying fuel, vehicles carrying diesel oil and explosions targeting the police, members of the media and fuel pipelines. Some of those attacks have been carried out by the Free Syrian Army and some by other armed opposition groups.

On 1 February, Riad al-Asaad, commander of the Free Syrian army, claimed that “Fifty percent of Syrian territory is no longer under the control of the regime,” and that half of the country was now effectively a no-go zone for the security forces. He said the morale of government troops was extremely low. “That’s why they are bombing indiscriminately, killing men, women and children,” he said.

Protests have drifted abroad to the doorsteps of Syrian embassies. After the opposition had claimed that more than 200 people perished in the massacre in Homs on 2 February 2012, both Syrian and non-Syrian protesters in Cairo, Kuwait City, and London damaged their respective Syrian embassy.

In an attack on buildings used by Syrian military intelligence in Aleppo, at least 28 people died and 235 were injured on 10 February 2012. The Free Syrian Army, through colonel Arif Hamood, claimed responsibility for the attacks in an interview with France 24, saying mortars and RPGs had been used instead of car bombs as was initially reported. However, shortly thereafter another FSA leader, Riad al-Asaad, denied FSA involvement and asserted a false-flag conspiracy in which the Assad government is presented as the perpetrator of the attack on its own buildings. A correspondent for the Dutch public broadcaster NOS described the latter as an unlikely explanation for the attacks, pointing out that the FSA have earlier indicated that one of their targets is military intelligence, which they hold responsible for a major part of the violence against the opposition.

Ceasefire attempt

Since 12 April, both sides, the Syrian Government and rebels of the FSA entered a UN mediated ceasefire period. Despite the intitial plans to begin the ceasefire on 10 April, the Syrian Army continued to pound rebel strongholds for two more days, in an attempt to gain ground, and announced full armistice on 12 April. On 15 April, there were reports of artillery fire on Homs, and several dozens of casualties accumulated across Syria due to infractions of the ceasefire by both sides, despite the promise for pause in hostilities.

On 23 April, the violence in Syria allegedly peaked again with as many as 80 people claimed to be killed nationwide.

On 1 May, Hervé Ladsous, the United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that both sides had violated the April 12 ceasefire agreeement. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it was vital that government and opposition alike cooperate fully with the UN observer force.

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