Bashar al-Assad
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A Syrian military unit was ambushed on Thursday by insurgent near the capital, Damascus, triggering a firefight that killed 28 government troops. The ambush followed days of intense fighting as rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital have come under a government offensive. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the soldiers and allied gunmen were ambushed in the rebel-held village of Rihan east of Damascus.

Anas al-Dimashqi, an opposition activist based in the area, and the Observatory said the ambush killed at least 28 troops and pro-government gunmen. Syrian government forces and their allies have been trying to storm eastern suburbs of Damascus, known as eastern Ghouta, but have struggled to penetrate rebel defenses.

Read more: US-Russia ceasefire deal on Syria holding – for now

How it all began?

Pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.

By June 2013, the UN said 90,000 people had been killed in the conflict. By August 2015, that figure had climbed to 250,000, according to activists and the UN. Now, it has reached up to half a million.

The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Assad’s resignation. The government’s use of force to crush the dissent merely hardened the protesters’ resolve. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets across the country. Opposition supporters eventually began to take up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas.

Violence escalated and the country descended into civil war as rebel brigades were formed to battle government forces for control of cities, towns and the countryside. Fighting reached the capital Damascus and second city of Aleppo in 2012.

By June 2013, the UN said 90,000 people had been killed in the conflict. By August 2015, that figure had climbed to 250,000, according to activists and the UN. Now, it has reached up to half a million.

Read more: A Syrian “Ceasefire” for whom?

An increasingly sectarian conflict

The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or against Mr. Assad. It has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect, and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has added a further dimension.

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The refugee crisis

More than 5.5 million people have fled Syria since the start of the conflict, most of them women and children. Neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey have struggled to cope with one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history. About 10% of Syrian refugees have sought safety in Europe, sowing political divisions as countries argue over sharing the burden. A further 6.5 million people are internally displaced inside Syria, 1.2 million were driven from their homes in 2015 alone.

Read more: Of oil,economy,and Israel:US stakes in Syria

Humanitarian crisis

The UN says it will need $3.2bn to help the 13.5 million people, including 6 million children, who will require some form of humanitarian assistance inside Syria in 2017. About 70% of the population is without access to adequate drinking water, one in three people are unable to meet their basic food needs, and more than 2 million children are out of school, and four out of five people live in poverty.

The warring parties have compounded the problems by refusing humanitarian agencies access to civilians in need. Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to life-saving aid.

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The rise of extremist groups 

The armed rebellion has evolved significantly since its inception. Secular moderates are now outnumbered by Islamists and jihadists, whose brutal tactics have caused global outrage.

So-called Islamic State has capitalized on the chaos and taken control of large swathes of Syria and Iraq, where it proclaimed the creation of a “caliphate” in June 2014. Its many foreign fighters are involved in a “war within a war” in Syria, battling rebels and rival jihadists from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, as well as government and Kurdish forces.

In the political arena, opposition groups are also deeply divided, with rival alliances battling for supremacy. The most prominent are the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, backed by several Western and Gulf Arab states. However, the exile group has little influence on the ground in Syria and its primacy is rejected by many opponents of Mr. Assad.

In September 2014, a US-led coalition launched air strikes inside Syria in an effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS. But the coalition has avoided attacks that might benefit Mr. Assad’s forces. Russia began an air campaign targeting “terrorists” in Syria a year later, but opposition activists say its strikes have mostly killed Western-backed rebels and civilians.

In the political arena, opposition groups are also deeply divided, with rival alliances battling for supremacy. The most prominent is the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, backed by several Western and Gulf Arab states. However, the exile group has little influence on the ground in Syria and its primacy is rejected by many opponents of Mr. Assad.

Read more: Increased intervention in Syria: How many targets is the US eyeing?

A proxy conflict

What began as another Arab Spring uprising against an autocratic ruler has mushroomed into a brutal proxy war that has drawn in regional and world powers. Iran and Russia have propped up the Alawite-led government of President Assad and gradually increased their support. Tehran is believed to be spending billions of dollars a year to bolster Mr. Assad, providing military advisers and subsidized weapons, as well as lines of credit and oil transfers. Russia has meanwhile launched an air campaign against Mr. Assad’s opponents.

Until late 2015, rebel appeals for anti-aircraft weapons to stop devastating government air strikes were rejected by the US and its allies, amid concern that they might end up in the hands of jihadist militants. A US program to train and arm 5,000 rebels to take the fight to IS on the ground also suffered a series of setbacks before being abandoned.

The Syrian government has also enjoyed the support of Lebanon’s Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement, whose fighters have provided important battlefield support since 2013.

The Sunni-dominated opposition has, meanwhile, attracted varying degrees of support from its international backers – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, along with the US, UK, and France.

Until late 2015, rebel appeals for anti-aircraft weapons to stop devastating government air strikes were rejected by the US and its allies, amid concern that they might end up in the hands of jihadist militants. A US program to train and arm 5,000 rebels to take the fight to IS on the ground also suffered a series of setbacks before being abandoned.

Read more: Syria’s Al-Qaeda not on US’ terror watch-lists: Who is supporting terrorism?

The current state of affairs in Syria

The Syrian regime forces seem to have regained the initiative on the Syrian battlefield. It has reversed the gains made by Syrian rebels who are now under extreme pressure from the government forces.

Kurds have also made massive gains and have entered Raqqa, the de-facto capital of self-proclaimed Islamic State. IS has lost considerable ground in the last few years and is at the brink of losing its capital and other urban centers which were under its control.

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