The Syrian Civil War is an ongoing armed conflict in Syria, which began as a peaceful revolution inspired by the Arab Spring, which toppled Middle Eastern dictators in other Arab countries including Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The war is between forces loyal to the Syrian Ba'ath Party government and those seeking to oust it. The unrest began on 15 March 2011, with demonstrations by protesters demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, and the relinquishment of power by the Ba'ath Party, which has ruled Syria since 1971.
In April 2011, the Syrian Army was deployed to quell the demonstrations, and did so by opening fire on civilian protesters. Assad regime used an ultra loyalist group made of hard core Alawites called Shabbhia or "ghosts". This group led by Maher Assad, Basher's brother, led the violent crackdown on protesters. As the crackdowns ensued, some of the SAA defected to form the FSA or Free Syrian Army, as they refused orders to shoot protesters. The FSA was formed with the stated intention of protecting the Syrian people from the regime and overthrowing Assad, and by the end of the year the unrest had deteriorated into a complete armed rebellion, with an influx of both weapons and fighters from outside the country bolstering opposition forces . However, the opposition has remained fractured, both politically and militarily, into groups representing a wide spectrum of positions, from those advocating non-violence and dialogue with the Ba'ath Party, to those supporting violent subversion and all-out war against the state. The Syrian government characterizes the insurgency as an uprising of "armed terrorist groups and foreign mercenaries". The conflict has had no clear fronts, with clashes taking place in many towns and cities across the country.
Until late 2011 the armed conflict had not reached the biggest cities of Damascus and Aleppo, but in mid-2012 full-scaled urban battle began in Damascus, followed by the even more deadly battle of Aleppo. On 15 July 2012, the International Committee of the Red Cross assessed the Syrian conflict as a "non-international armed conflict" (the ICRC's legal term for civil war), thus applying international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions to both sides in the conflict. Throughout that year, however, the civil war degenerated further into a regional conflict, and in late 2012 the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra had achieved growing influence within the opposition military forces, while the Lebanon-based Hezbollah had entered the war in support of the Syrian government.
International opponents of the Syrian government, most notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Arabia, and the United Kingdom and France in Europe, responded to the conflict by focusing increasingly on what they regarded as the state's violation of human rights. Meanwhile, Iran and Russia, which both have ties of friendship with the Syrian government, have provided an increasing counterweight to this position, and Russia has shown readiness to supply weaponry to the state if necessary. For its part, the Arab League suspended Syria's membership because of what is regarded as the government's disproportionately violent response to the crisis, and granted Syria's seat on 6 March 2013 to the Syrian National Coalition, one of the main factions of the rebellion.
The war degenerated into a stalemate in early 2013, with both sides making limited advances in different places. According to the UN, the conflict was becoming "overtly sectarian in nature", though both the opposition forces and the Syrian government deny that sectarianism plays any key role in the conflict. On 2 January 2013, the United Nations released an estimate that the war's death toll had exceeded 60,000; by 15 May, this figure was updated to 80,000. According to various sources, between 70,000 and 90,000 people have been killed, of which up to half were civilians. By October 2012, up to 28,000 people had been reported missing, including civilians forcibly abducted by both opposition groups and government forces. According to the UN, about 4 million Syrians have been displaced within the country, and as many as 1.5 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. International organizations have accused both government and opposition forces of severe human rights violations, and accusations have been made against both sides of illegally using chemical weaponry.