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  1. Syria Main Page
  2. Regional Conflicts Continue Through the End of the Century
  3. Syria is Repeatedly Accused of Supporting Terrorist Groups
  4. Syria and Israel Begin Negotiating, but Terrorism and Conflict Continue
  5. Government Forces Crack Down on Protesters
  6. Diplomatic Effort to End Violence Stymied by Security Council Vetoes
  7. Syria Sinks into Civil War
  8. Opposition Forms New Governing Body
  9. Several Countries Accuse Assad of Using Chemical Weapons
  10. Gains by Government and Splintering of Opposition Signal Staying Power of Assad
  11. Assad Accused of Launching a Chemical Attack
  12. Splintering of Opposition, Rise of ISIS Cause Concern
  13. UN-Led Negotiations Begin in Geneva; Rebels Suffer Setbacks
  14. Assad Re-elected in a Disputed Election
  15. Obama Authorizes Strikes on ISIS
  16. Peace Talks Delayed Again as Civil War Rages On; Another Attempt at Peace
Diplomatic Effort to End Violence Stymied by Security Council Vetoes

As the fighting dragged on, several thousand soldiers defected and joined the Free Syrian Army, which was intensifying its attacks on government forces. The UN warned in December that Syria was on the brink of a civil war. "The Syrian authorities' continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war," said Navi Pillay, the UN commissioner for human rights. Arab League observers entered Syria in January to try to persuade Assad to stop attacking civilians, withdraw tanks from towns, and begin talks with the opposition. Despite their presence, the killing continued.

On Feb. 6, 2012, the U.S. government closed its embassy and withdrew personnel from Syria. Also in early February, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for an end to the violence, for Assad to hand power to his vice president, and the creation of a unity government. The vetoes were a clear blow to the diplomatic effort to stem the increasing violence. Days later, however, the UN General Assembly voted 137-12, in favor of a resolution that condemned Assad and urged him to step down. While the resolution was non-binding, it nevertheless was an embarrassment for the Syrian president. On the same day as the UN Security Council vote, Syrian forces unleashed a vicious assault on Homs, killing hundreds. The assault on Homs continued throughout the month, and after a vicious 27-day bombardment, the insurgents withdrew from Homs.

In late February, a UN panel accused the government of ordering "gross human rights violations" against civilians. The panel said the atrocities qualified as crimes against humanity. It also found that members of the Free Syrian Army were also guilty of using excessive violence, but their acts were "not comparable in scale and organization to those carried out by the state." On Feb. 26, a referendum on a new constitution, which set presidential term limits to two seven-year terms, passed with nearly 90% support. Outside observers called the referendum a farce. By the end of March, the UN estimated that about 9,000 people had been killed in the fighting.

On March 21, the UN Security Council issued a presidential statement backing a plan outlined by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that largely mirrored the proposal brokered in Nov. 2011 by the Arab League, which called on the government to stop killing civilians, engage in talks with the opposition, withdraw forces from the streets, and "begin a transition to a democratic, political system." Russia and China, which had previously vetoed resolutions condemning Assad, endorsed the document. Assad accepted the statement and agreed to a cease-fire. He later said he would withdraw troops from cities by April 10. Many observers were skeptical, however, that he would make good on his promises. That doubt was justified in May, when about 110 people—including 49 children and 34 women—were killed in the village of Houla. UN observers blamed many of the deaths on government tanks and artillery and said many of the victims were executed in their homes. Assad, however, claimed terrorists carried out the attack. In response, 11 nations, including the U.S., expelled Syrian diplomats, and the UN Security Council unanimously criticized the "outrageous use of force" against residents and the government's role in the attack. Russia, typically protective of Syria and reluctant to criticize the government, signed on to the UN statement.

Next: Syria Sinks into Civil War
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