Syria: What's going on?
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The political crisis in Syria has been going on for over a year and it is difficult to keep track of the developments taking place. To help you understand just what’s going on, TNS have looked into the fundamental reasons behind the situation and the events which have allowed it to escalate to such an extent... Background:
- The crisis began in March 2011 when protesters began calling for the release of political prisoners. The Syrian government did not respond well; protestors were detained and attacked by Syrian security forces. As the violence continued, Syrian forces began using gunfire, tanks and naval ships against civilians.
- The Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad refused to listen to requests for a freer media, fairer representation, reforms and an end to the violence. Beyond this he refused to acknowledge responsibility for the violence, instead blaming it on foreign conspirators.
- Assad called for a referendum to end single-party rule in Syria but ignored the fact that this would not bring a quick end to the crisis. Protestors also began to organise themselves into more formal groups.
- In August the Syrian National Council (SNC) formed and requested that the Syrian government be overthrown by united opposition. They also called upon the international community to protect civilians. Another opposition group, the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC) advocated discussions with the current government, believing that getting rid of Assad would only cause more problems. In December, these two groups signed an agreement to unite against the government.
- Clashes between the Syrian government and other forces continued into April 2012 despite international efforts to stop them. Kofi Annan was appointed as UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy and he presented a six point plan to the Security Council in March 2012.
- A ceasefire deadline was set for 10 April 2012 which Assad accepted despite scepticism from others.
- However, further conditions and a written ceasefire agreement from Assad was refused by Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army warned they would resume attacks if the government didn’t adhere to the deadline.
- Attacks continued beyond the deadline and amnesty international reported ongoing human rights abuses.
- Conflict began to affect countries bordering Syria. A Turkish refugee camp was filled with 24,000 Syrians and this reportedly came under fire by government forces.
- The Lebanese opposition leader voiced concern that violence would spill into Lebanon.
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- The League of Arab States was initially reluctant to get involved and condemned the violence in a non-explicit way before negotiating a peace pact with the Syrian government. After the Syrian government continued in a violent way, the League suspended Syria’s membership and also imposed economic sanctions. This led to Syria signing a peace deal allowing an observer mission. The Mission was later suspended on 29 January due to worsening conditions.
- The EU imposed an arms embargo in May 2011, asset freeze and visa ban on 13 individuals identified as responsible for the conflict. In August the EU also imposed further economic sanctions, asset freezes and travel bans on the Syrian government and military officials. Further sanctions including a ban on oil imports and a condemnation of the failure to protect civilians came about later.
- The UN reminded the Syrian government of their violations of the human rights legislation and condemned acts on civilians. It also organised a mission to investigate the human rights violations in Syria which found that murder, torture and perversion of justice were just some of the crimes. UN officials also ordered the Syrian government to release all detainees and allow refugees to return.
- The UN Security Council was a source of disappointment in its inability to form a consensus. Initial proposals were vetoed by China and Russia, while their suggestions were seen as too lenient by France, USA and Germany. In March 2012 they released a presidential statement calling for implementation of the six-point proposal.
- The General Assembly passed a resolution in November condemning action of Syrian government (122 states votes in favour). A second resolution called for Syria to accept the peace plan brokered by the Arab League (133 votes in favour). In February, a third resolution wanted to ensure accountability and stop impunity (137 votes in favour).
- Turkey imposed economic sanctions.
- Qatar recalled its ambassador and led other countries to do the same. It also briefed the Security Council.
- The USA imposed sanctions on Syrian officials and banned Syrian oil imports. The country also joined the UK, France and Germany in calling for Assad to step down in August.