Syrians are marking 10 years since peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s government erupted in March 2011, touching off a popular uprising that quickly turned into a full-blown civil war.
Despite a decade of fighting and a broken country, Assad remains firmly in power. Syria is economically devastated and divided into three parts. An al-Qaida-linked group dominates the northwestern Idlib province, with Turkey-backed rebels controlling stretches along the Turkish border. U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces hold around a quarter of the country in the northeast. Assad controls the rest.
The conflict has killed around half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million, including more than 5 million who are refugees, mostly in neighboring countries.
Here is a timeline of key events in Syria’s war:
March 2011: Protests erupt in the city of Daraa over the detention of a group of boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti on their school walls. On March 15, a rally is held in Damascus’ Old City. On March 18, security forces fire at a protest in Daraa, killing four people in what activists say were the first deaths of the uprising. Demonstrations spread, as does the crackdown.
April 2011: Security forces raid a sit-in in Syria’s third-largest city, Homs, where thousands tried to recreate the mood of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests against Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
July 18, 2012: A bombing at the Syrian national security building in Damascus during a high-level government crisis meeting kills four top officials, including Assad’s brother-in-law and the defense minister.
July 2012: Fighting spreads to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial capital.
Aug. 20, 2012: President Barack Obama says the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” that would change his calculus on intervening in the civil war.
March 19, 2013: Syria’s government and opposition trade accusations over a gas attack that killed 26 people, including more than a dozen soldiers, in the northern town of Khan al-Assal. A U.N. investigation later finds sarin nerve gas was used, but does not identify a culprit.
May 2013: Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group officially joins the Syrian conflict on Assad’s side by attacking and later capturing the border town of Qusair.
Aug. 21, 2013: A chemical attack in Damascus’ eastern Ghouta suburbs kills hundreds. The U.S. and others blame Syrian government forces. Obama threatens punitive strikes but later backs down.
Sept. 27, 2013: The U.N. Security Council orders Syria to account for and destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, following a surprise deal between Washington and Moscow that averts U.S. strikes.
Oct. 14, 2013: Syria becomes a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, prohibiting it from producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.
June 23, 2014: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it’s removed the last of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons. Syrian opposition officials maintain government stocks were not fully accounted for, and that it retained supplies.
June 30, 2014: The Islamic State group declares its so-called caliphate in areas it controls in Iraq and Syria. Refugee crisis accelerates.
Sept. 23, 2014: The U.S. launches airstrikes on IS targets in Syria.
March 28, 2015: Syria’s northwestern city of Idlib falls to Islamic militants led by al-Qaida’s affiliate known as the Nusra Front.
May 6, 2015: Assad acknowledges serious setbacks for his military.
Sept. 2, 2015: The body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi is found on a Turkish beach, drawing attention to the plight of Syrian refugees taking desperate risks to reach the safety of Europe.
Sept. 30, 2015: Russia begins launching airstrikes in Syria in support of Assad’s forces.
August 2016: Turkish forces cross into northern Syria, capturing areas along the border from the Islamic State group.
December 2016: Syrian insurgents pull out of rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo after a Russia-backed government offensive.
April 4, 2017: At least 58 die in what doctors say may have been a nerve gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib. Witnesses say either Russian or Syrian Sukhoi jets carried out the attack. Moscow and Damascus deny responsibility.
April 6, 2017: The U.S. fires a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria in retaliation for the Khan Sheikhoun attack, the first direct American assault on the Syrian government.
May 2017: Rebels withdraw from the last neighborhood they controlled in Homs, once dubbed the capital of the revolution.
Jan 20, 2018: Turkey begins a major military operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters in northern enclave of Afrin.
April 2018: Syrian government forces capture eastern Ghouta, taking control of all Damascus suburbs and securing Assad’s seat of power.
April 14, 2018: The U.S., Britain and France launch military strikes in Syria to punish Assad for an April 7 purported chemical weapons attack that activists say killed over 40 people in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
Oct 10, 2019: Turkey begins a ground offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria after U.S. troops pulled back from the area.
March 5, 2020: The presidents of Russia and Turkey say they’ve reached agreement on a cease-fire in northwestern Syria, where escalating fighting had threatened to put their forces into direct conflict. The truce also stopped a Russian-backed government offensive on Idlib, the last rebel stronghold.
June 17, 2020: New sanctions known as the U.S. Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, targeting those who lend support to Syrian military efforts in the war, go into effect.