The Syrian uprising began with protests held in early 2011, demanding release of political prisoners. In March 2011, security forces opened fire on protesters at a “Day of Rage” rally in southern city of Deraa, triggering days of violent unrest and more civilian deaths. Nearly two years into the conflict, the United Nations says that the death toll in Syria has surpassed 60,000.
The crisis has spread beyond Syria, with sectarian violence noted in Lebanon while NATO installed patriot anti-missile defense batteries along the Turkish-Syrian frontier following cross-border airstrikes. Neighboring countries are also deeply worried about the destabilizing effect of Syrian refugees and have appealed to international donors to increase humanitarian aid. According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the total number of refugees and individuals awaiting registration is over 670,000 while 4 million are in need of humanitarian aid.
While the demonstrations in Syria were peaceful at the outset, and called largely for reform of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the Syrian government’s violent response has led to widespread defections from the Syrian military and provoked the creation of armed opposition.