Civil uprising phase of the Syrian Civil War
|Civil Uprising phase of the Syrian Civil War|
|Part of Syrian Civil War and the Arab Spring|
Demonstration in Homs against Syrian Government (18 April 2011).
|Date||15 March 20111– 28 July 2011|
|Status||peaceful protests ended; deteriorated into an armed rebellion and later full-scale civil war|
|Death(s)||1,80015-2,15416 civilians and 40617-50018 security forces killed (by 17 August)
|Injuries||Thousands of protesters12
1,30013-1,85714 security forces
|Arrested||12,617 (by 28 July)19|
The Civil Uprising phase of the Syrian Civil War was an early stage of protests and violence in the ongoing Syrian conflict, lasting from March to 28 July 2011. The uprising evolved from initially minor protests, beginning as early as January 2011, as a response to the regional Arab Spring, government corruption and human rights abuses. The uprising phase was marked by massive anti-regime opposition demonstrations against the Ba'athist regime of Bashar al-Assad, meeting with police and military violence, massive arrests and brutal crackdown, resulting in hundreds of casualties and thousands of wounded.
Despite Bashar al-Assad's attempts to pacify the protests with massive crackdown and use of censorship on one hand and concessions on the other, by the end of April, it became clear the situation was getting out of his control and the Syrian government deployed numerous troops on the ground.
The civil uprising phase created the platform for emergence of militant opposition movements and massive defections from the Syrian Army, which gradually transformed the conflict from a civil uprising to an armed rebellion, and later a civil war. The rebel Free Syrian Army was created on July 29, 2011, and marked the establishment of formal military resistance to the Assad government.1 From then on, the struggle took shape of armed insurgency with civil resistance disbanded and opposition members turning to arms.
Before the uprising in Syria began in mid-March 2011, protests were relatively modest, considering the wave of unrest that was spreading across the Arab world. Syria until March 2011 for decades had remained superficially tranquil, largely due to fear under the people for the secret police arresting critical citizens.20
Minor protests calling for government reforms began in January, and continued into March. A "Day of Rage" was called for on 3 February by activists in Syria to occur on Friday 4 February via websites Facebook and Twitter.21 This did not result in protests in Syria.
The unrest began on 15 March in Damascus, in Aleppo, and in the southern city of Daraa, sometimes called the "Cradle of the Revolution".22 Daraa had been straining under the influx of internal refugees who were forced to leave their northeastern lands, due to a drought exacerbated by the government's lack of provision.23 The protests were triggered by the incarceration and torture of several young students, who were arrested for writing anti-government graffiti in the city.24 Demonstrators clashed with local police, and confrontations escalated on 18 March after Friday prayers. With thousands protesting, the clashes resulted in several civilian deaths. On 20 March, a mob burned down the Ba'ath Party headquarters and other public buildings. Security forces quickly responded, firing live ammunition at crowds, and attacking the focal points of the demonstrations. The two-day assault resulted in the deaths of fifteen protestors.25
Meanwhile, minor protests occurred elsewhere in the country. Protesters demanded the release of political prisoners, the abolition of Syria's 48-year emergency law, more freedoms, and an end to pervasive government corruption.26 The events lead to a "Friday of Dignity" on 18 March, when large-scale protests broke out in several cities, including Banias, Damascus, al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir az-Zor and Hama. Police responded to the protests with tear gas, water cannons, beatings. At least 6 people were killed and many others injured.27
On 25 March, mass protests spread nation-wide, as demonstrators emerged after Friday prayers.25 Over 100,000 people reportedly marched in Daraa,28 but at least 20 protesters were reportedly killed. Protests also spread to other Syrian cities, including Homs, Hama, Baniyas, Jasim, Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia. Over 70 protesters in total were reported dead.29
Even before the uprising began, the Syrian government conducted numerous arrests of protesters, political activists and human rights campaigners, many of whom were labeled "terrorists" by Assad government. In early February, authorities arrested several activists, including political leaders Ghassan al-Najar,30 Abbas Abbas,31 and Adnan Mustafa.32
The police often responded to the protests violently, not only using water cannons and tear gas, but also beating protesters and firing live ammunition.33
As the uprising began, the Syrian government waged a campaign of arrests that captured tens of thousands of people, according to lawyers and activists in Syria and human rights groups. In response to the uprising, Syrian law had been changed to allow the police and any of the nation's 18 security forces to detain a suspect for eight days without a warrant. Arrests focused on two groups: political activists, and men and boys from the towns that the Syrian Army would start to besiege in April.34 Many of those detained experienced various forms of torturecitation needed and ill-treatment. Many detainees were cramped in tight rooms and were given limited resources, and some were beaten, electrically jolted, or debilitated. At least 27 torture centers, run by Syrian intelligence agencies, were revealed by Human Rights Watch on 3 July 2012.35
President Assad has characterized the opposition as armed terrorist groups with Islamist "takfiri" extremist motives, portraying himself as the last guarantee for a secular government form.36 Early in the month of April, a large deployment of security forces prevented tent encampments in Latakia. Blockades were set up in several cities, to prevent the movement of protests. Despite the crackdown, widespread protests remained throughout the month in Daraa, Baniyas, Al-Qamishli, Homs, Douma and Harasta.37
During March and April, the Syrian government, hoping to alleviate the unrest, offered political reforms and policy changes. Authorities shortened mandatory army conscription,38 and in an apparent attempt to reduce corruption, fired the governor of Daraa.39 The government announced it would release political prisoners, cut taxes, raise the salaries of public sector workers, provide more press freedoms, and increase job opportunities.40 Many of these announced reforms were never implemented.41
The government, dominated by the Alawite sect, made some concessions to the majority Sunni and some minority populations. Authorities reversed a ban that restricted teachers from wearing the niqab, and closed the country's only casino.42 The government also granted citizenship to thousands of Syrian Kurds previously labeled "foreigners".43
A popular demand from protesters was an end of the nation's state of emergency, which had been in effect for nearly 50 years. The emergency law had been used to justify arbitrary arrests and detention, and to ban political opposition. After weeks of debate, Assad signed the decree on 21 April, lifting Syria's state of emergency.44 However, anti-government protests continued into April, with activists unsatisfied with what they considered vague promises of reform from Assad.45
As the unrest continued, the Syrian government began launching major military operations to suppress resistance, signaling a new phase in the uprising. On 25 April, Daraa, which had become a focal point of the uprising, was one of the first cities to be besieged by the Syrian Army. An estimated hundreds to 6,000 soldiers were deployed, firing live ammunition at demonstrators and searching house to house for protestors, arresting hundreds.4647 Tanks were used for the first time against demonstrators, and snipers took positions on rooftops. Mosques used as headquarters for demonstrators and organizers were especially targeted.46 Security forces began shutting off water, power and phone lines, and confiscating flour and food. Clashes between the army and opposition forces, which included armed protestors and defected soldiers, led to the death of hundreds.4748 By 5 May, most of the protests had been suppressed, and the military began pulling out of Daraa, with some troops remaining to keep the situation under control.
During the crackdown in Daraa, the Syrian Army also besieged and blockaded several towns around Damascus. Throughout May, situations similar to those that occurred in Daraa were reported in other besieged towns and cities, such as Baniyas, Homs, Talkalakh, Latakia, and several other towns.49 After the end of each siege, violent suppression of sporadic protests continued throughout the following months.50 By 24 May, more than 1,000 people have been killed in the uprising according to the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.51
When the uprising began in mid-March, many analysts believed that the Syrian government would remain intact, partly due to strict loyalty tests and the fact that most top-position officials belonged to the same sect as Assad, the Alawites.citation needed However, in response to the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters, many soldiers and low-level officers began to desert from the Syrian Armycitation needed. Many soldiers who refused to open fire against civilians were summarily executed by the armycitation needed. The first defections occurred during the April Daraa operation.25citation needed The number of defections increased during the following months, as army deserters began to group together to form fighting unitscitation needed. As the uprising progressed, opposition fighters became more well-equipped and organized. Until September 2011, about two senior military or security officers defected to the opposition.52 Some analysts stated that these defections were signs of Assad's weakening inner circle.53citation needed
The first instance of armed insurrection occurred on 4 June 2011 in Jisr ash-Shugur, a city near the Turkish border in Idlib province. Angry protesters set fire to a building where security forces had fired on a funeral demonstration. Eight security officers died in the fire as demonstrators took control of a police station, seizing weapons. Clashes between protesters and security forces continued in the following days. Some security officers defected after secret police and intelligence agents executed soldiers who refused to shoot civilians. On 6 June, Sunni militiamen and army defectors ambushed a group of security forces heading to the city which was met by a large government counterattack. Fearing a massacre, insurgents and defectors, along with 10,000 residents, fled across the Turkish border.25
In June and July 2011, protests continued as government forces expanded operations, repeatedly firing at protesters, employing tanks against demonstrations, and conducting arrests. The towns of Rastan and Talbiseh, and Maarat al-Numaan were besieged in early June.54 On 30 June, large protests erupted against the Assad government in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.55 On 3 July, Syrian tanks were deployed to Hama, two days after the city witnessed the largest demonstration against Bashar al-Assad.56 On 29 July, a group of defected officers announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which would become the main opposition army. Composed of defected Syrian Armed Forces personnel and civilian volunteers, the rebel army seeks to remove Bashar al-Assad and his government from power. This began a new phase in the conflict, with more armed resistance against the government crackdown. The FSA would grow in size, to about 20,000 by December, and to an estimated 40,000 by June 2012.57
During the first six months of the uprising, the inhabitants of Syria's two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, remained largely uninvolved in the anti-government protests.58 The two cities' central squares have seen organized rallies of hundreds of thousands in support of president Assad and his government.59
- Consecutive events from 29 July 2011 are to be found in: Syrian civil war#Protests and armed insurgency (29 July–October 2011)
Since demonstrations began in March, the Syrian government has restricted independent news coverage, barring foreign free press outlets and arresting reporters who try to cover protests. Some journalists had been reported to have gone missing, been detained, been tortured in custody, or been killed on duty. International media have relied heavily on footage shot by civilians, who would often upload the files on the internet.60
The government disabled mobile phones, landlines, electricity, and the Internet in several places. Authorities had extracted passwords of social media sites from journalists through beatings and torture. A pro-government online group called the Syrian Electronic Army had frequently hacked websites to post pro-regime material, and the government has been implicated in malware attacks targeted at those reporting on the crisis.61 The government also targeted and tortured political cartoonist Ali Farzat, who had been critical of the crackdown.62
Many observers of the conflict have stated that propaganda has been used by both the Syrian government63 and opposition factions since the beginning of the conflict. Although there are extremists fighting against the government,64 most independent media sources do not refer to the opposition as terrorists. However, SANA, the Syrian government's official news agency, often refers to the opposition as "armed gangs" or "terrorists". The Syrian foreign ministry and Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, viewed the U.S. government's statements concerning the danger of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against civilians as propaganda.65 Similarly, other observers speculated that such U.S. statements might be used as a pretext to launch a military intervention in Syria.66 Jonathan Steele, a Guardian columnist, asserted that all of the "western media's" reporting on the conflict is biased propaganda.67 It is also reported that SANA television interviews sometimes use government supporters disguised as locals who stand near sites of destruction and claim that they were caused by rebel fighters.6368
Syrian public school instructors teach students that the ongoing conflict is a foreign conspiracy – something which many people regard as propaganda.69 There have been several occurrences of videos of violence circulated by social media on both sides that have turned out to be footage from conflicts in other countries.70
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