People evacuate from Eastern Ghouta (Picture: PA)
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How Have We Got To Here: A Timeline Of The Syrian Conflict

The UK, US and France have launched air strikes in Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack on the town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, but...

People evacuate from Eastern Ghouta (Picture: PA)

People evacuate from Eastern Ghouta (Picture: PA)

The UK, US and France have launched air strikes in Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack on the town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta.

But how did this all start?

Syria sits next to the Mediterranean Sea in Western Asia. It borders Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.

But since 2011, the country has been crippled by a Civil War between President Assad and his forces, pro-democracy protestors and the rise of Islamic extremists. 

In more recent times, suspected chemical attacks allegedly carried out by Assad or his allies, have made the situation between Syria and the West tenser than ever.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Calls for democracy

Pro-democracy protests in Syria emerged across the nation after Assad forces shot dead protestors in the city of Deraa.

They were calling for the release of political prisoners in March 2011. 

Assad announced the release of dozens of political prisoners and the lifting of a 48-year-old state of emergency law (something protestors called for) which once gave Assad huge power.

Protestors, however, were unsure what changes this would make so anti-Assad demonstrations continued and he responded with violence.

In May 2011, military tanks entered the cities of Deraa, Banyas, Homs and the Damascus suburbs to quash the protests.

By now, the US and the European Union (EU) had put tighter sanctions on Syria.

Just two months later, in June 2011, Syria was reported to the UN Security Council over an alleged covert nuclear programme. 

President Assad

Oppositions form against Assad

Following the sacking of the Governor for the northern province of Hama in July 2011, President Assad sent in troops to restore order.

Four months later, the Arab League imposed sanctions and voted to suspend Syria, accusing the country of failing to implement an Arab peace plan.

In March 2012, the UN Security Council approved a new non-binding peace plan, which China and Russia agreed to after an earlier draft was changed.

This came a month after Assad's bombardment of Syrian cities.

Later that year in June, Turkey changed the rules of engagement after Syria shot down a Turkish plane.

Ankara stated that if Syrian troops approached their border, it would be taken as a military threat.

Free Syrian Army were backed by the West (Image: Freedom House).
Free Syrian Army were backed by the West (Image: Freedom House).

In July 2012, the Free Syrian Army was set up by mutinied officers from the Syrian Armed Forces who wanted to bring down Assad's government.

The group blew up three security chiefs in Damascus before seizing Aleppo in the north.

Not for the first time in this conflict, the US had their say.

President at the time, Barack Obama, warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons could trigger the US military into action. 

National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was then formed in Qatar in November (excluding Islamist militias).

A month later, the US, Britain, France, Turkey and Gulf states formally recognised the group as the representative of the Syrian people. 

In January 2013, Syria accused Israel of bombing a military airport near Damascus. 

The flag of the United Nations (Image: United Nations).
Talks at the start of 2014 between the United Nations and Syria broke down (Image: United Nations).

The UN and Syria relationship

Whilst chemical weapon attacks have been hitting the headlines this week, this has in fact been a problem for the UN for a number of years.

In September 2013, UN weapons inspectors concluded that toxic chemicals were used in an attack on the Ghouta area of Damascus back in August 2013.

The attack reportedly killed around 300 people, however, the UN did not say who was responsible.

The Syrian government allowed the UN to destroy their chemical weapons stock, which was completed by June 2014. 

Between January and February 2014, peace talks organised by the UN failed after Syrian officials refused to discuss the creation of an emergency government during the country's transitional period.

IS in Syria
Islamist extremist group, IS, in Syria.

Rise of Islamists

Following reports that Islamist rebels had seized areas controlled by the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, US and Britain announced in December 2013, that they had suspended their 'non-lethal' support.

In March 2014, the Syrian Army alongside the Lebanese Islamic political and militant group, Hezbollah, recaptured the last rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border in the south-west of the country.

As the year went on, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants declared their ruling in the territory of Aleppo through to the Iraqi province of Diyala.

In September 2014, the US and five Arab countries responded to the rise of Islamic State with air strikes around Aleppo and Raqqa.

Kurdish forces also removed Islamic State out of the Turkish border town of Kobani in January 2015.

ISIS

Despite attacks from neighbouring countries and the US, Islamic State continued to strengthen their position.

In May 2015, IS fighters seized the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria. 

Jaish al-Fatah, also known as the Army of Conquest, an Islamist rebel alliance group, later took control of the Idllib Province. 

In October 2017, IS are forced out of their stronghold, Raqqa.

President Assad pictured alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Assad pictured alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia's role

It is well documented that Russia is a close ally and supporter of the Assad regime and they in fact back Assad's troops.

In September 2015, Russia carried out their first air strikes in Syria. They say they targeted the Islamic State in the attack but the West and Syrian opposition suggested it was anti-Assad rebels who were targeted.

Syrian government forces recapture Palmyra from IS thanks to the help of the Russian Air Force.

They were later removed from the city in December 2016, nine months after its recapture.

Russian Air Force Su-30 Fighter (Image: Sergey Krivchikov).
Russian Air Force Su-30 Fighter (Image: Sergey Krivchikov).

The Russian Air Force again had a role to play in recapturing a Syrian city, this time in December 2016.

Alongside Syrian government troops and Iranian-sponsored militias, Syria's largest city, Aleppo, was recaptured.

Aleppo was the rebels' last major urban stronghold.

In January 2017, talks in Kazakhstan between Russia, Iran and Turkey saw an agreed ceasefire between the government and non-Islamist rebels. 

In December 2017, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that they would be withdrawing their troops from Syria.

The US and Trump's Tweets

In response to an alleged chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, President Trump ordered a missile attack on a Syrian government airbase.

The next month, May 2017, the US armed YPG Kurdish Popular Protection Units to fight alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They captured Tabqa dam from IS. 

Then in June 2017, the US shot down a Syrian fighter jet after it allegedly dropped bombs close to the SDF.

US President Donald Trump (Image: PA).
US President Donald Trump (Image: PA).

Following an alleged chemical attack on Douma, President Trump reacted and warned Russia that missiles 'will be coming' to Syria.

The US President Tweeted the following day that an attack on Syria could 'be very soon or not so soon at all'.

The UK

Following the attack,  Downing Street confirmed there had been discussion between allies, France and the US, over what step to take next. 

Previously, the UK had carried out airstrikes in Syria against so-called Islamic State.

In December 2015, two Tornados left the Cypriot base of RAF Akrotiri, each with three Paveway bombs. They later returned with no bombs.

Two other Tornados also left the base that night. 

As part of Operation Shader, the British military have been fighting IS in Syria and other countries.

Last September, the Ministry of Defence announced that 17 IS targets in Syria were destroyed in just one week. 

The ministry stated that since the Operation was launched in September 2014, the RAF has struck IS targets 262 times in Syria alone.

The Government has never said publicly that UK forces are in Syria, however, Sergeant Matt Tonroe from the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment was killed by an IED in Syria, whilst fighting IS in March 2018.

Sergeant Matt Tonroe was killed in Syria in March 2018 (Image: MoD)
Sergeant Matt Tonroe was killed in Syria in March 2018 (Image: MoD)

The MoD said in a statement:

"The individual was embedded with US forces on a counter-Daesh operation when the incident occurred"

Sergeant Tonroe's death was reportedly the first British military death whilst deployed on the ground against IS.

The UK, US and France launch missile strikes

In the early hours of 14 April 2018, the US, UK and France responded to the attack with a missile strike on Syria.

Strikes were launched at 2am BST at three sites connected with the Syrian regime's chemical weapons programme.

The first strike was on a scientific research centre in greater Damascus, involved in the development and production of chemical weapons.

The second at a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and the third at a chemical equipment storage facility and important command post.

Four RAF Tornado GR4s joined the strikes against Syria, launching Storm Shadow missiles.

The US said "important infrastructure" had been destroyed, resulting in the loss of years of research and development for the Syrian regime.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis said double the number of weapons had been used in the strikes compared with the 2017 Shayrat missile strike which involved 59 US Tomahawk cruise missiles and was launched in response to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack.

Mr Mattis and General Joseph Dunford said there were no reports of any allied losses. Syrian state-run TV later reported that three civilians had been wounded.

Theresa May speaking about the attack on Syria.
Theresa May speaking about the attack on Syria.

Announcing the operation, Prime Minister Theresa May said there was "no practicable alternative to the use of force".

She said "every possible diplomatic channel" had been explored before authorising the strikes, adding that it was not a decision she had taken lightly.

Mr Mattis and General Joseph Dunford said there were no reports of any allied losses. Syrian state-run TV later reported that three civilians had been wounded.

Across the Atlantic, President Donald Trump condemned Syria's two main allies, Russia and Iran, for supporting "murderous dictators".

Giving a statement at the White House, Mr Trump said:

"This evil and despicable act left mothers and fathers and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air.

"The combined American, British and French response will integrate all instruments of our national power."

RAF Tornado preparing to leave to strike Syria (Picture: MoD)
RAF Tornado preparing to leave to strike Syria (Picture: MoD)

In Paris, the French government also spoke about the attack, saying Syria "must stop using such weapons".

Jean-Yves Le Drian, French foreign minister, said:

"This action is proportionate and targeted.

"It is neither seeking to reach Assad's allies, nor the civilian population, but to dissuade the Syrian regime from pursuing its criminal actions.

The Damas regime must stop using such weapons".

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the air strike conducted by the US, UK and France would only worsen Syria's humanitarian crisis.

In a statement issued by the Kremlin, Russian president Putin said Moscow is calling an emergency meeting of the UN security over the strike launched by the US, UK and France.

Mr Putin denounced the strikes as an "act of aggression".

The Russian military said Syria's Soviet-made air defence systems downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the US and its allies.

Syrian state TV called the attacks a "blatant violation of international law and shows contempt for international legitimacy".

President Assad also commented on the attack via Twitter:

He said "this aggression will only increase Syria and the Syrian people in their determination to continue to fight and crush terror in every inch of the country".

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