The Arab Spring, uprisings throughout the Arab world against long-standing dictators, reached Syria in March 2011 with popular demonstrations quickly spreading across the country that demanded the ouster of Bashar al-Assad, whose family has been in power since 1971. Brutal repression of the protests quickly escalated into a full-blown civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and brought superpowers and regional forces into conflict. China and Russia have vetoed any efforts by the UN National Security Council to take action against Assad’s regime, which is also supported by Iran, Hezbollah and Palestinian militants. The Free Syrian Army, a fragile coalition of armed forces committed to overthrowing al-Assad, has received support from the U.S. and other western governments, but also fight with Sunni extremists that are loyal to al-Qaeda and have declared jihad against the Shi’ite Muslims supporting Assad, which has limited foreign aid. Syria’s large chemical weapons arsenal is a critical factor in the civil war that may necessitate foreign intervention.
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