Ten years of Syria conflict, from protest to war to economic decline

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Ten years into Syria’s conflict, President Bashar Assad has survived the bloody insurgency which started out with peaceful protests in March 2011.

He holds sway over many parts of the country, helped by Russia’s military presence and Iran’s Shi’ite militias.

Hostile Turkey still controls swathes of territory in the northwest and the US has a presence in the northeast, a major oil and wheat producing area.

But Assad’s biggest challenge now is the economy.

Post-war discontent with corruption, spiraling food prices, a collapsed currency, worsening power cuts and gasoline shortages have aggravated hardships for many families who have lost loved ones.

This is a timeline of how the conflict began with peaceful pro-democracy protests, then developed into a multi-sided conflict that sucked in world powers, killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more.

* March 2011 — The first big protests against Assad’s rule that began in Deraa in southern Syria spread across the country. Security forces respond with arrests and shootings.

Protesters gather near the Omari Mosque in the southern old city of Deraa, March 22, 2011. Hundreds of people marched in southern Syria for a fifth straight day on Tuesday, protesting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad and shouting "Freedom, freedom. Peaceful, peaceful." Protesters gathered near the Old Omari mosque in Deraa and in the nearby town of Nawa in the strategic Hauran plateau, close to the border with Jordan, catching a wave of Arab unrest that has toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. (Credit: REUTERS/KHALED AL-HARIRI)

Protesters gather near the Omari Mosque in the southern old city of Deraa, March 22, 2011. Hundreds of people marched in southern Syria for a fifth straight day on Tuesday, protesting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad and shouting “Freedom, freedom. Peaceful, peaceful.” Protesters gathered near the Old Omari mosque in Deraa and in the nearby town of Nawa in the strategic Hauran plateau, close to the border with Jordan, catching a wave of Arab unrest that has toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. (Credit: REUTERS/KHALED AL-HARIRI)

* June 2012 — World powers meet in Geneva and agree on the need for a political transition, but divisions on how to achieve it will foil years of UN-sponsored peace efforts.

Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui arrives at the UN Human Rights Council for the emergency debate on human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria, at the United Nations in Geneva February 28, 2012. Syria called on Tuesday for countries to stop "inciting sectarianism and providing arms" to opposition forces in the country, and charged that sanctions imposed by some countries were preventing Damascus from buying medicines and fuel. (Credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui arrives at the UN Human Rights Council for the emergency debate on human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria, at the United Nations in Geneva February 28, 2012. Syria called on Tuesday for countries to stop “inciting sectarianism and providing arms” to opposition forces in the country, and charged that sanctions imposed by some countries were preventing Damascus from buying medicines and fuel. (Credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)

* July 2012 — Assad launches air raids on towns and cities that had rebelled against his rule, as once peaceful protesters now carry arms. Thousands are killed.

A Syrian woman gestures as she sits on her wheelchair near her damaged house, after an air raid by the Syrian army forces near the district area of Homs, August 26, 2012. (Credit: REUTERS/YAZAN HOMSY)A Syrian woman gestures as she sits on her wheelchair near her damaged house, after an air raid by the Syrian army forces near the district area of Homs, August 26, 2012. (Credit: REUTERS/YAZAN HOMSY)

* August 2013 — Washington declares the use of chemical weapons a red line, but a gas attack on densely populated rebel-held Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus kills hundreds of civilians without triggering a US military response.

A UN chemical weapons expert (2nd L) chats with a doctor as he visits a hospital, where people affected by an apparent gas attack are being treated, in the Damascus' suburb of Zamalka August 29, 2013. A team of UN experts left their Damascus hotel for a third day of on-site investigations into apparent chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of the capital. Activists and doctors in rebel-held areas said the six-car UN convoy was scheduled to visit the scene of strikes in the eastern Ghouta suburbs.(Credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABDULLAH)A UN chemical weapons expert (2nd L) chats with a doctor as he visits a hospital, where people affected by an apparent gas attack are being treated, in the Damascus’ suburb of Zamalka August 29, 2013. A team of UN experts left their Damascus hotel for a third day of on-site investigations into apparent chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of the capital. Activists and doctors in rebel-held areas said the six-car UN convoy was scheduled to visit the scene of strikes in the eastern Ghouta suburbs.(Credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABDULLAH)

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* January 2014 — An al-Qaeda splinter group seizes Raqqa before grabbing territory across Syria and Iraq, declaring a caliphate and renaming itself Islamic State.

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. The offshoot of al-Qaeda which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic "Caliphate" and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a statement posted on jihadist websites said on Sunday. The group, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, has renamed itself "Islamic State" and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi as "Caliph" - the head of the state, the statement said. (Credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. The offshoot of al-Qaeda which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic “Caliphate” and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a statement posted on jihadist websites said on Sunday. The group, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, has renamed itself “Islamic State” and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi as “Caliph” – the head of the state, the statement said. (Credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

* September 2014 — Washington builds an anti-Islamic State coalition and starts air strikes, helping Kurdish forces turn the jihadist tide but creating friction with ally Turkey.

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes up position with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher at the front line against the Islamic State, in Khazir September 7, 2014. Islamic State launched a lightning advance through northern and central Iraq in June, declaring an Islamic caliphate. With the help of US air strikes, Iraq's army and Kurdish forces have been able to push the fighters back from some areas. (Credit: REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH)A Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes up position with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher at the front line against the Islamic State, in Khazir September 7, 2014. Islamic State launched a lightning advance through northern and central Iraq in June, declaring an Islamic caliphate. With the help of US air strikes, Iraq’s army and Kurdish forces have been able to push the fighters back from some areas. (Credit: REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH)

* March 2015 — As Assad’s forces lose ground in many towns and cities that rose up against his one-party Baath rule, a mainstream armed insurgency composed of former demonstrators and army defectors is slowly undermined by Islamist militants helped by foreign jihadists coming to Syria.

ighters loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad go through weapons near a tank after regaining control of Hamreet, a town south of Damascus, in the Daraa countryside March 1, 2015. Government forces say they've regained control of this and many other villages in the south - wresting them back from rebel hands. A general made the announcement on state television, saying a large number of Nusra Front fighters were killed and their weapons destroyed. The gains were said to happen on Friday and Saturday in a large offensive backed by the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah. (Credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)ighters loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad go through weapons near a tank after regaining control of Hamreet, a town south of Damascus, in the Daraa countryside March 1, 2015. Government forces say they’ve regained control of this and many other villages in the south – wresting them back from rebel hands. A general made the announcement on state television, saying a large number of Nusra Front fighters were killed and their weapons destroyed. The gains were said to happen on Friday and Saturday in a large offensive backed by the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah. (Credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

* September 2015 — Russia joins the war on Assad’s side, deploying warplanes and giving military aid that, with the help of Iran, swiftly turns the course of conflict against the rebels.

Russian-flagged cargo ship Alexandr Tkachenko sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, September 6, 2015. The ship, chartered by the Russian government to make voyages to a government-controlled port in Syria was carrying military trucks when it headed to Syria last month, according to photographs taken as it passed through the Bosphorus Straits. The photographs, taken by a Turkish blogger who passed them to Reuters, follow a Reuters report that Russia has set up a seaborne lifeline via the Bosphorus to supply its armed forces in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad's forces as it steps up its involvement in the conflict. (Credit: REUTERS/YORUK ISIK)Russian-flagged cargo ship Alexandr Tkachenko sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, September 6, 2015. The ship, chartered by the Russian government to make voyages to a government-controlled port in Syria was carrying military trucks when it headed to Syria last month, according to photographs taken as it passed through the Bosphorus Straits. The photographs, taken by a Turkish blogger who passed them to Reuters, follow a Reuters report that Russia has set up a seaborne lifeline via the Bosphorus to supply its armed forces in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces as it steps up its involvement in the conflict. (Credit: REUTERS/YORUK ISIK)

* August 2016
— Alarmed by Kurdish advances on the border, Turkey launches an incursion with allied rebels, making a zone of Turkish control that it later extends in 2018.

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A Kurdish fighter carries his weapon near a statue of Bassel al-Assad, brother of Syria's President Bashar, in the Ghwairan neighborhood of Hasaka, Syria, August 23, 2016. (Credit: REUTERS/RODI SAID)A Kurdish fighter carries his weapon near a statue of Bassel al-Assad, brother of Syria’s President Bashar, in the Ghwairan neighborhood of Hasaka, Syria, August 23, 2016. (Credit: REUTERS/RODI SAID)

* December 2016 — The Syrian army and its allies defeat rebels in their biggest urban base of Aleppo after months of siege and bombardment, confirming Assad’s momentum.

A member of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walks past Syrian national flags erected in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 10, 2016. (Credit: REUTERS/OMAR SANADIKI)A member of forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad walks past Syrian national flags erected in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 10, 2016. (Credit: REUTERS/OMAR SANADIKI)

* March 2017 — Israel acknowledges launching air strikes against Hezbollah in Syria, aiming to degrade the strength of Iran whose elite Quds forces and Shi’ite militias from Afghanistan and Lebanon steadily expand their influence in Syria.

* April 2017 — The United States launches a first cruise missile attack on a Syrian government airbase near Homs after a poison gas attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun.

US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which US Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. (Credit: FORD WILLIAMS/COURTESY US NAVY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which US Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. (Credit: FORD WILLIAMS/COURTESY US NAVY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

* November 2017 — US-backed, Kurdish-led forces defeat Islamic State in Raqqa. That offensive, and a rival one by the Syrian army, drives the jihadists from nearly all their land.

* April 2018 — After months of blockade and air raids, the Russian-backed army recaptures eastern Ghouta, before retaking the other insurgent enclaves in central Syria, and then the rebels’ southern bastion of Deraa in June.

Men inspect damage after an airstrike on the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria April 7, 2017. (Credit: REUTERS/BASSAM KHABIEH)Men inspect damage after an airstrike on the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria April 7, 2017. (Credit: REUTERS/BASSAM KHABIEH)

* September 2018 — A Russian-Turkish deal over Idlib and the rebel-held northwest freezes the front-lines and reduces the bombing raids that killed hundreds of civilians in the last major opposition bastion.

* March 2019 — As its local allies take Islamic State’s last area in the east, the United States decides to keep some troops in Syria after earlier saying it would pull out.

* April-December 2019 — Russian-backed forces launch a campaign in the northwest that ends with the capture of a strategic rebel town of Khan Sheikhoun in August, a site of a major chemical attack on civilians.

* A Russian-Turkish summit in October reduces fighting until Moscow resumes a major assault in December that pushes deeper into the last opposition bastion.

* December 2019-March 2020 — The Russian-led offensive in northwest Syria displaces about one million civilians, marking the worst humanitarian crisis since the conflict began. Ankara sends thousands of soldiers across the border to help stem the offensive. Turkey says it will not stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe and opens its borders. Thousands flee for Greece.

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Tents housing internally displaced people in Atma camp in Idlib Governorate of Syria are seen on the Syrian side of the border zone near the Turkish village of Bukulmez in Hatay province, Turkey, February 24, 2020. (Credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)Tents housing internally displaced people in Atma camp in Idlib Governorate of Syria are seen on the Syrian side of the border zone near the Turkish village of Bukulmez in Hatay province, Turkey, February 24, 2020. (Credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)

* March 2020 — Turkey and Russia agree a ceasefire for Idlib, vowing to hold joint patrols and establish a secure corridor near the M4 highway.

People hold Syrian opposition flags during a protest against the agreement on joint Russian and Turkish patrols, at M4 highway in Idlib province, Syria, March 15, 2020. (Credit: REUTERS/KHALIL ASHAWI)People hold Syrian opposition flags during a protest against the agreement on joint Russian and Turkish patrols, at M4 highway in Idlib province, Syria, March 15, 2020. (Credit: REUTERS/KHALIL ASHAWI)

* March-August 2020 — Syria struggles with widespread transmission of COVID-19 that adds to the country’s hardships.

People wear face masks as they wait in line to enter and attend the Friday prayers, after the government has eased the restrictions amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Umayyad mosque in Damascus, Syria May 8, 2020. (Credit: REUTERS/OMAR SANADIKI)People wear face masks as they wait in line to enter and attend the Friday prayers, after the government has eased the restrictions amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Umayyad mosque in Damascus, Syria May 8, 2020. (Credit: REUTERS/OMAR SANADIKI)

* May 2020-March 2021 — The government faces severe fuel shortages and Syrians queue for hours for subsidized bread, signs of a faltering economy. The government is forced to ration supplies and apply several rounds of steep price hikes.

* May 2020 — The first public signs of a fallout between Assad and his cousin tycoon Rami Makhlouf surface, with the later posting videos about the rift on social media.

* June 2020 — The United States announces the toughest US sanctions against Damascus known as the “Caesar Act,” with wider powers to freeze assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality, and covering more sectors from construction to energy.

* December 2020-March 2021 — Israel steps up its air strikes against various parts of Syria, especially the east, hitting targets to prevent further Iranian entrenchment.

* February 2021 — Joe Biden’s US administration carries out an airstrike in Syria’s east alongside the Iraqi border against a structure belonging to what it said were Iran-backed militia. Syria calls the attack “cowardly.”

* March 2021 — The Syrian pound hits new lows, trading close to 4,000 to the dollar as the economy weakens amid severe foreign currency shortages.

Stacks of Syrian pounds are pictured inside an exchange currency shop in Azaz, Syria February 3, 2020. (Credit: REUTERS/KHALIL ASHAWI/FILE PHOTO)Stacks of Syrian pounds are pictured inside an exchange currency shop in Azaz, Syria February 3, 2020. (Credit: REUTERS/KHALIL ASHAWI/FILE PHOTO)

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