In the December 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire. His self-immolation is widely regarded as the beginning of the Arab Spring, which quickly took grip of the entire MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. As protests against the status quo of Arab governments began, they did so in Syria as well. Protests began peacefully, but after the detainment and torture of 15 young students in Der'aa, accused of writing a common slogan of the Arab spring ("The people want the fall of the regime") as graffiti, and burning of the Ba'ath Party headquarters, the government began violently retaliating against protesters, firing on crowds, killing dozens. This is largely considered as the start of the Syrian Civil War. Some others argue that worsening drought conditions, brought on by overusage of water resources due to Hafez Al-Assad's campaign for Syrian agriculture independence, contributed to the dissatisfaction of the people.NPR Staff. "The Arab Spring: A Year Of Revolution." National Public Radio, 17 Dec. 2011, www.npr.org/2011/12/17/143897126/the-arab-spring-a-year-of-revolution.
Officers in the Syrian Arab Army, disillusioned with their government after responses to the uprising and being ordered to fire on protesters, form the Free Syrian Army and start to fight against Syrian government forces.White, Jeffrey. "Asad's Armed Opposition: The Free Syrian Army." The Washington Institute, 30 Nov. 2011, www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/asads-armed-opposition-the-free-syrian-army.
Government forces continue to retaliate against protesters, and clashes between opposition groups and the government start becoming more frequent. The Assad government begins to use more heavy artillery in their operations starting in January 2012. The death toll in April reaches 10,000.Ford, Robert. "A Note from Ambassador Ford." U.S. Embassy Damascus, Facebook, 10 Feb. 2012, www.facebook.com/notes/us-embassy-damascus/a-note-from-ambassador-ford/10150547572706938/.
Herve Ladsous, of the United Nations, says that Syria is in a state of civil war, the first statement of its kind by a UN official. Later in the month, the Syrian government shoots down a Turkish F-4 fighter jet, with two pilots. Turkish PM Erdogan threatens extreme retaliation against the Syrian government, a sign of further escalating tensions. Bashar Al-Assad apologizes on behalf of the Syrian government."Syria in civil war, says UN official Herve Ladsous." BBC, 12 June 2012, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18417952.
Although having earlier acknowledged that Hezbollah members "acting as individuals" had fought in support of the Syrian government, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah secretary-general, officially states that Hezbollah is fighting against "Islamic extremists" in Syria, supposedly in the interest of keeping Lebanon safe. Nasrallah warns against consequences for the region should Syria fall "into the hand of America, Israel and takfiris [impure Muslims]."Barnard, Anne. "Hezbollah Commits to an All-Out Fight to Save Assad." The New York Times, 25 May 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/world/middleeast/syrian-army-and-hezbollah-step-up-raids-on-rebels.html.
Three days after UN investigators had arrived in Syria to investigate prior accusations of chemical weapons usage in Syria in Khan Al-Asal (just outside the city of Aleppo), a chemical attack using sarin gas was launched in the Ghouta (area around the city of Damascus) at 2:30 AM on August 21, 2013. According to MSF (Doctors Without Borders), 355 were killed and at least 3,600 displayed symptoms of neurotoxicity. The Syrian government was conspicuously not a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention at this time, and was blamed for the attack by a number of governments, the Arab League, and the European Union. The Obama Administration, having declared chemical weapons a "red line," threatened military intervention, which was not carried out. Facing immense international pressure, the Syrian government quickly signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to have any chemical weapons stockpiles destroyed."Bodies still being found after alleged Syria chemical attack: opposition." The Daily Star, 22 Aug. 2013, www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/Aug-22/228268-bodies-still-being-found-after-alleged-syria-chemical-attack-opposition.ashx.
A group of 12 nuns was kidnapped during a rebel offensive led by the Free Syrian Army in Maaloula, a Christian village in Damascus Countryside. At around the same time, Al-Qaeda linked extremists seized American provided warehouses of supplies, leading the U.S. and Britain to promise a halt in sending non-lethal aid to the Free Syrian Army."Mother superior: Nuns abducted by Syrian rebels." USA Today, 3 Dec. 2013, www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/12/03/nuns-abducted-syrian-rebels/3840091/.
Syria hosts the first presidential election in which challengers are allowed to run against the incumbent president. The Syrian government claimed a 73.42% turnout out of eligible voters with Bashar Al-Assad receiving 88.7% of the vote. Western nations, like the U.S., immediately decried the election as a farce."Bashar al-Assad wins re-election in Syria as uprising against him rages on." The Guardian, 4 June 2014, www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/bashar-al-assad-winds-reelection-in-landslide-victory.
The U.S.-led Coalition began their campaign of airstrikes to fight the Islamic State in September 2014, signaling a sharp increase in U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict.Harris, Shane, et al. "U.S. Begins Airstrikes Inside Syria." Foreign Policy, foreignpolicy.com/2014/09/23/u-s-begins-airstrikes-inside-syria/.
A long time ally of the Syrian government, Russia began assisting government forces in what they call the "battle against terrorism" at the request of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Their assistance has come primarily in the form of airstrikes, with the Russian Air Force primarily operating out of Khmeimim Air Base in Lattakia. Russia also supplies weapons to the Syrian government, and the vast majority of the Syrian government's arsenal is Soviet manufactured.
While fighting to take the city of Jarablus raged, tanks of Turkish Army soldiers began crossing the Syrian border and joining Free Syrian Army fighters. Some of the fighters operating under the name of the Free Syrian Army in Jarablus were in fact radical Islamists themselves, and there are reports that ISIS fighters simply shaved and then continued operating in Jarablus under the other radical Islamists, and accusations that Turkey provided supplies to ISIS in the area.
Aleppo, formerly Syria's largest city, was divided since 2012 into a rebel-held Eastern and government-held Western district. In December, the government recaptured the entire city, bringing an end to rebel presence in their last major urban stronghold. Some of the residents of Eastern Aleppo considered this a "liberation" and celebrated after the Syrian Army retook the area, whereas others fled, fleeing reprecussions for having lived in an opposition-controlled area and speaking out against the government.
Khan Shaykhun is a village in Idlib Governorate, the current largest rebel stronghold. On April 4, air strikes dropped aerial bombs designed to deliver chemical weapons with either sarin or a sarin-like agent on the village, causing international outrage at this flagrant violation of international law. Various activists on the ground in Khan Shaykhun have blamed the Syrian government for this attack, a belief that is repeated by the United States and other Western nations. The Syrian government claims that the agent was released due to an airstrike that hit a rebel chemical weapon storage facility. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad told the media that the public can't be sure whether the horrifying photographs were truly taken in Khan Shaykhun, and that they were child actors trying to defame his government. In retaliation for the chemical attack, the Trump administration ordered an attack on Shayrat Air Base, where it is believed that the planes making the chemical weapon strike took off from. 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired. A day later, warplanes took off from the same airbase.