As the civil war in Syria enters its sixth year of destruction, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to start the withdrawal of the "main part" of Russia's forces from Syria, saying that the Russian military intervention had largely achieved its objectives.
Russia had started a military operation in Syria in September 30, 2015 in support of the Syrian regime and its leader Bashar al Assad.
On March 15, 2011, peaceful protests began in Syria with international calls urging Assad to respond to the demands of people who just wanted freedom, dignity and better living conditions.
Turkey, being a close neighbor of Syria who was shaken by the anti-regime protests inspired by the popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world, warned Assad and advised him to make democratic reforms.
If Assad had responded to the demands of a democratic resolution, would Syria be watching the current mess and destruction? A question that imposes itself as Syrians are experiencing miserable conditions inside and outside Syria.
Assad ignoring all calls continued to suppress the protests and began imposing punitive measures. He arrested demonstrators, shot them on the streets and began using weapons, even those which are prohibited internationally.
The warring parties in Syria
Regime and opposition
After the regime started to suppress the demonstrations, the revolution entered into an armed phase where rebels started forming groups and factions with dubbed names. They began attacking regime forces and their allies and captured regime-held territories from the regime all across the country. However, they were active mainly in the northern and western regions of Syria.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish PYD militants started to raise their flags in the eastern province of Hasakah and its countryside, including the mainly Kurdish prohibited areas in Kobani and the north. Later the YPG took control of Tal Abyad city in Raqqa province from DAESH.
The YPG is the Syrian wing of the outlawed PKK, who is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, US, EU and NATO.
Within the chaos in Syria, DAESH entered the scene announcing a self-proclaimed “Caliphate State” in 2014, making the Syrian province of Raqqa its capital. In the territories under DAESH control, Syrian civilians witnessed all kinds of atrocities. Reports also have surfaced in recent months that DAESH has used toxic chemicals in Syria. More than 2000 civilians have been killed by DAESH.
Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front which is led by Abu Muhammad al Golani, is fighting the Syrian regime forces and its allies. Nusra Front had attacked the US-backed opposition group on several occasions.
The US-led coalition launched an aerial campaign against the terror group DAESH in Syria and Iraq in September 2014. The United States, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates take part in the coalition. Later, the UK and France joined the coalition as well.
Hezbollah fighters have joined the Syrian war in support of Bashar al Assad. They are mainly fighting the opposition faction in the southern territories close to the Syrian Lebanese border in the Qalamoun. Confrontations took place between Hezbollah fighters and the Nusra Front fighters in the area of the Lebanon-Syria border.
Pro-regime militias, formed in mid 2012 and organised by the Syrian regime, are also one of the armed forces fighting on the ground . They are supporting the regime forces in fighting opposition groups and controlling the check points between the areas held by rebels and areas held by the regime in Syria.
Syrian regime atrocities against civilians causing humanitarian crisis
Russian and regime air strikes have been targeting hospitals and medical staff. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) stated on February that hospitals in Syria have faced at least 400 attacks and that around 700 medical staff members have been killed since 2011.
Hospitals in rebel-held areas of Syria have been dug six metres underground to avoid Russian and regime air strikes, with the purpose of keeping patients and doctors alive in the country that is so accustomed to death.
Syrian children without education
According to estimates of the charity organisation Save the Children, more than two million children are missing out on schooling and education.
Out of the 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, about 650,000 are children of school age and about 390,000 Syrian children are out of schools.
Some Syrian children have been lucky enough to continue their education in Turkey. Some 80,000 children at AFAD-run refugee camps attend schools, while 310,000 students from Syria have enrolled in schools outside camps. The country aims to get at least 460,000 children enrolled in schools by the end of this year according to the Turkish National Education Ministry.
Miserable living conditions
Syrians are suffering from terrible living conditions, including having a lack of clean drinking water and electricity. Basic needs are not available and food prices are rising greatly by the day.
Civilians in besieged areas
The Syrian regime has been sieging civilians in rebel-controlled towns and cities, where people there are starving to death as no emergency aid could reach them. According to the UN, up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations.
Other civilians are in towns besieged by either DAESH or rebels.The UN estimates that around 486,700 Syrian people are living under towns besieged by the Assad regime, rebels or the DAESH terrorist group.
Madaya starved to death
In the city of Madaya, which is one of the besieged cities in Eastern Ghouta, there are more than 42,000 people including 20,000 children.
Conditions in Madaya have reportedly been among the worst, with about 42,000 civilians in the city being surrounded by regime troops who have laid mines around the town to prevent people leaving.
Hezbollah militants who have assemblies in the southern region of the country have planted land mines and established checkpoints encircling the town of Madaya in order to prevent the civilian population from leaving. No humanitarian aid was allowed to reach the embattled town for more than six months.
Half of Syria's population displaced
Number of people displaced
Nearly 35,000 refugees have settled in camps on the Turkish border inside Syria in the latest wave of migration, as Russian-backed Syrian regime forces continue to attack, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee the country. Turkey already hosts nearly 2.7 million Syrian refugees.
Syrian children live in terror
According to Save the Children charity foundation, 7.5 million Syrian children have been affected by the war. A quarter of a million children live in terror in besieged areas of Syria, where barrel bombs, air strikes and shelling are a daily occurrence. Deprived of food, children are forced to eat boiled leaves and animal feed, while living in constant fear of attacks.
Thousands of Syrian babies born Displaced
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Lutfi Elvan has said that Syrian babies born in Turkey have exceeded 150,000, as the humanitarian crisis has become increasingly unbearable in Syria since the brutal civil war began five years ago.
Torture in Assad’s prisons: Caesar Gallery
A gallery of images were released in 2014 – after a Syrian defector, known only as "Caesar," handed them over to rights groups and media outlets.
Caesar worked as a photographer for two years with the Syrian military police. His job was to document prisoners' deaths. He leaked 55,000 images of emaciated and tortured Syrians killed by the regime at military facilities across the country.
It was the first comprehensive evidence of crimes against humanity committed by Bashar al Assad’s regime following the uprising against him.
Assad and Russia used all internationally prohibited weapons
Chemical weapons have been used at least 161 times in Syria from the beginning of the conflict through the end of 2015, said a new report by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) released on March 14, 2016.
At least 1,491 people have so far died and 14,581 people have been injured in chemical attacks, and the report shows that such attacks are increasing, with a high number of at least 69 attacks last year.
Most of the chemical attacks -77 percent- have occurred after the passage of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2118 in September 2013, which forbids the use of poisonous gases in Syria.
Thirty-six percent occurred after the council condemned the use of chlorine last year in its Resolution 2209 in March 2015.
An additional 133 reported chemical attacks "could not be fully substantiated."
It said “the use of chemical weapons is part of a strategy of displacing Syrians in opposition-held territories.”
On February, 23 the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) said the regime of Bashar al Assad had used chemical weapons between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31 last year, mostly in Idlib, the Damascus suburbs, Hama, Homs, Daraa and Deir al Zour.
Toxic chlorine gas usage in Syria was banned under resolutions agreed by the Syrian regime and UN Security Council (UNSC) on 14 September 2013 following the August 2013 chemical attack on Ghouta in Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people including many civilians.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported the use of cluster weapons - cluster munitions are bombs that contain hundreds of bomblets - by Russia either by releasing them through their warplanes or by providing the Assad regime with them, according to Syrian activists' reports.
The New-York-based organisation accessed photographs which show cluster munitions used in Kafr Halab, a southwest village in Syria's Aleppo on October 4.
Barrel bombs are explosives dropped by regime helicopters typically made from a large barrel-shaped metal container that has been filled with large amount of explosives, shrapnel and chemicals.
According to a report documented by the Syrian Network for Human Right (SNHR ), no less than 19947 barrel bombs have been dropped by Syrian regime helicopters on different Syrian provinces since a UN resolution was issued.
At least 8136 civilians including 2274 children and 2036 women, were killed due to the barrel bombs attacks till the second anniversary of the UNSC resolution which was issued in 22 February 2014, according to SNHR.
Russia targets civilians
Thousands of air strikes and missiles by Russian warplanes killed at least 1,733 civilians - including women and children - in Syria since September 30, London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) documented in its latest report.
Death toll during the war in Syria
The latest credible watchdog, keeping track of the body count, to release a figure, SOHR, in a report released on Feb. 22 estimated the overall death toll of the war to be as high as 370,000 people. This includes at least 271,138 documented deaths since the beginning of the war on March 18, 2011.
According to the group, 122,997 of confirmed deaths were of civilians - including 13,597 children and 8,760 women over the age of 18. SOHR also stated that it estimates the number of undocumented deaths of combatants to be approximately 95,000. These cases cannot be confirmed "due to the extreme discretion by all parties about the human losses caused by the conflict and due to the difficulty of communication in Syria," the group stated.
In contrast, SNHR claims that the number of women and children killed in the conflict is almost double the figure provided by the SOHR. SNHR said a total of 40,000 women and children - 20,000 each - were killed in Syria between the start of the war in March 2011 and the end of October 2015. It also blamed the Assad regime for the vast majority of the deaths.
On the other hand, a report released by the Syrian Center for Policy Research on Feb. 11 puts the total death toll at 470,000, with around 1.9 million Syrians having suffered injuries at some point during the war. If accurate, this means that 11.5 percent of Syria’s total population has either been killed or wounded in the conflict.
The report states that 400,000 of these deaths were due to violence, while 70,000 died due to poor supplies and conditions. It also said that the life expectancy in Syria has dropped from 70 years in 2010, to 55 years in 2015. In the same period, Syria’s mortality rate increased from 4.4 deaths per 1,000 people to 10.9 deaths per 1,000 people.
Death journey to Europe
The war in Syria has caused the worst refugee crisis since World War II. More than half of the country’s population have been displaced. Millions of Syrians have fled the country to neighbouring countries of Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt. Turkey is hosting the largest number with 2.7 million refugees.
According to UNICEF, the war in Syria has created 2.4 million child refugees. More than 818,000 Syrians have crossed the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe after being terribly exploited by human smugglers. In 2015 alone, more than 185 children died in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Cessation of hostilities agreement
On February 27, US-Russia brokered cessation of hostilities went into effect in Syria, but according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights more than 477 breaches have been recorded after the agreement. The agreement did not cover DAESH, the Nusra Front and any other militias designated as terrorist organisations by the UN Security Council.
Future of Syria
Despite all the miserable crimes which have been carried out in Syria within the five years of the conflict, Assad is still in power with the support of Russia and Iran. Turkey, the United States, and their Western and Gulf allies are against Assad. They believe that it is not possible to have a peaceful Syria if he remains in power. However, Russia’s attitude on the transition process in Syria is not clear yet. It has not given any concrete suggestion if the process will end up with a political transition or a federal model, with or without Assad.
Author: Nebras Ibrahim