Since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime broke out, Syria has been plunged into a war that has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions. We take a look back at a decade of conflict in 10 dates.


From protests to civil war

With protest movements shaking up the Arab world, a few dozen Syrians took to the streets in Damascus on March 15, responding to a call on social media to demonstrate against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Three days later, four demonstrators were killed in the southwestern city of Deraa, during a protest of several thousand people. As protests grew, the regime stepped up its repression. On July 31, around 140 civilians were killed in an army operation in Hama in central Syria. A few days later, a group of army deserters formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), marking the start of an armed uprising against the regime.


The conflict stalls

In February, the Syrian army launched a series of offensives on the central city of Homs, which had become a symbol of the rebellion, killing hundreds of civilians. In a video message released on February 11, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s top leader, called on Muslims across the world to support rebels seeking to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. In July, the Free Syrian Army launched an offensive to take control of Damascus, but the rebel forces were quickly pushed out of the capital.


Crossing the ‘red line’

In 2012, when then US president, Barack Obama, was asked what would force Washington to intervene in the Syrian conflict, he said the “red line” would be the regime’s use of chemical weapons. But a year later, when US intelligence determined that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, Obama, in a surprise U-turn, opted to seek Congressional approval. The bill was never put to the floor and in September 2013, the Syrian regime accepted a US-Russian brokered diplomatic initiative to hand over its chemical weapons. France had been ready to join a US-led military operation in Syria, but was forced to back down with then president, François Hollande, calling it a “missed opportunity”.


A cross-border 'caliphate'

After a lightning military offensive, the Islamic State (IS) group, a breakaway branch of al Qaeda in Iraq, declared the territory it controlled across the Syria-Iraq border was a “caliphate” with two strongholds: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. In response, a US-led international coalition launched air strikes targeting the jihadist group’s positions.


Foreign intervention and migration crisis

On November 20, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution, drafted by France following the November 13 Paris attacks, calling on all members to “redouble” action against the Islamic State (IS) group. Russia, the Syrian regime’s firm backer, stepped up its involvement, launching strikes against the rebels, particularly in Aleppo. Iran, which was already supporting the Assad regime since 2013 by sending paramilitary fighters, also redoubled its support, sending hundreds of fighters to swell Syrian army ranks. At the same time, a record number of Syrians fleeing the conflict arrived in neighbouring countries and Europe, causing a major migration crisis.


The fall of Aleppo

After four years of fierce fighting to control Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital and industrial hub, the Assad regime recaptured the last opposition enclaves in the city in December following a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey that saw encircled rebels agreeing to leave the areas they held. The fall of Aleppo marked Assad’s greatest military success since the start of the Syrian uprising.


The fall of Raqqa

On October 17, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), bringing together Arab and Kurdish fighters, recaptured Raqqa, the IS group’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria. The four-month battle left more than 2,000 dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and destroyed most of the city.


At the gates of the capital

The year saw yet another major victory for Assad when his forces recaptured Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, on May 21. Several hundred civilians perished during the three-month offensive supported by the Russian military.


The end of the 'caliphate'

On March 23, the US-backed SDF announced the liberation of Baghouz, a Syrian village near the Iraq border where the IS group had made a last stand. The victorious SDF then raised their yellow flag on a building pockmarked with holes from the fighting and announced the “total elimination of the so-called caliphate". Months later, on October 27, 2019, the US announced the death of IS group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed near the village of Barisha in northwestern Syria.


The Battle of Idlib

A massive Russian-backed Syrian military offensive on the last pockets of territory held by rebels and jihadists in Idlib sparked a major humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing towards Turkey despite the closure of the Turkish border. Amid UN warnings of a bloodbath, Russia and Turkey agreed to a ceasefire in March following “difficult” negotiations. The agreement effectively preserved the territorial gains made by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the province while preserving a Turkish foothold in the region.