Syria timeline: Protests, war, displacement, isolation and...reintegration

Last month, the Arab League readmitted Syria after 12 years of regional isolation. But how did it get here? Al Majalla lays out the chronology of significant events that unfolded since 2011.

Last month, the Arab League readmitted Syria after 12 years of regional isolation. But how did it get here? Al Majalla lays out the chronology of significant events that unfolded since 2011.
Ewan White
Last month, the Arab League readmitted Syria after 12 years of regional isolation. But how did it get here? Al Majalla lays out the chronology of significant events that unfolded since 2011.

Syria timeline: Protests, war, displacement, isolation and...reintegration


In March, anti-government protests erupt in Daraa, located in southern Syria. The protests quickly spread across various regions of Syria, escalating into a full-blown conflict involving multiple militia groups and countries.

As the crisis unfolds, defections within the Syrian army increase, leading to the formation of the Free Syrian Army in early August.

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In response to the escalating situation, several Arab countries sever diplomatic relations with Damascus, which results in Syria's expulsion from the Arab League in November.

During the initial years of the conflict, several countries provide support to political and armed opposition groups in Syria.


In June, a working group comprising the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, and the Arab League agrees upon a set of principles for the transitional phase in Geneva.

However, the involved parties, both Syrian and international, express discontent as the principles do not clearly address the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, whom the protesters demand to be removed.

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While Washington perceives the agreement as a means to facilitate a post-al-Assad phase, Moscow and Beijing believe that the Syrian people should decide al-Assad's future.


During its 24th summit held in Doha in March, the Arab League assigns Syria's seat to Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian opposition.

In August, the Syrian conflict enters a new phase following a chemical attack in Ghouta, located on the outskirts of Damascus, which claims the lives of over 1,000 people.

In response to the attack, the United Nations Security Council issues Resolution 2118. UN and Western reports attribute responsibility for the attack to Damascus, while the Syrian government denies these allegations.

Prior to the attack, then-US President Barack Obama had stated that the use of chemical or biological weapons would cross a "red line," but later alters his position.

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US President Barack Obama.


Al-Qaeda-affiliated organisations seize control of Raqqa in north-eastern Syria. They proceed to establish control over significant parts of Syria and Iraq, declaring the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS). In September of that year, the Global Coalition against IS, also known as Daesh, is formed.

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Islamic State fighters.


The Syrian opposition makes significant territorial gains, controlling the majority of the country while leaving only 10 percent under government control. However, the intervention of the Russian army and Iran-affiliated militias helps sustain the regime's hold on power.

In September, Russian air strikes begin targeting Syrian territories in response to a request for military support from al-Assad against the opposition.

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The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is formed in October, primarily composed of Kurdish armed factions. Supported by the US-led international coalition, the SDF asserts control over northeastern regions of Syria.

Towards the end of 2015, international, regional, and Arab meetings take place in Vienna to address the Syrian crisis. These meetings set the stage for UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for a ceasefire and political settlement.


In August, Turkey initiates Operation Euphrates Shield to assist Syrian factions in driving out IS fighters from the northern and eastern outskirts of Aleppo.

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Throughout the year, the Syrian army, aided by its allies, makes advancements against the opposition in Aleppo. Following months of siege and bombardment, the al-Assad regime begins to regain territory.


In response to a poison gas attack on the opposition-held city of Khan Shaykhun, the United States launches its first cruise missile attack on a Syrian government air base near Homs.

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In November, Kurdish-led forces, with support from the US, successfully oust IS from Raqqa. Simultaneously, a Syrian army offensive contributes to the territorial losses suffered by the terrorist group.

Russia facilitates negotiations in Astana, Kazakhstan, bringing together the Syrian regime and opposition groups. Moscow sponsors the talks alongside Iran and Turkey.


In December, the UAE reopens its embassy in Damascus after a six-year hiatus.

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The US, Russia, and Jordan sign an armistice agreement concerning southern parts of Syria. This leads to the opposition surrendering territories under its control to government forces and the reopening of the Syrian-Jordanian border.


In October, a Russian-Turkish-Iranian summit takes place, resulting in a ceasefire that holds until December when Moscow launches a major offensive against the opposition's remaining strongholds.

The Russian attack in north-western Syria triggers the displacement of nearly a million civilians, causing the worst humanitarian crisis since the conflict began.

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Turkey sends thousands of soldiers across the border to provide support and opens its borders, allowing fleeing Syrians to reach Europe. Thousands of refugees seek asylum in Greece.


The Syrian population faces significant challenges as they endure long queues for subsidised bread and suffer from a severe fuel shortage, exacerbating the country's economic hardships. The government is compelled to ration distribution and impose substantial price hikes.

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The United States announces its most stringent sanctions against Syria to date, implementing the "Caesar Act." This act empowers the US to seize the assets of any entity engaging with Syria, regardless of nationality or sector.


Israel intensifies its air strikes across various parts of Syria, particularly in the east, with the aim of curbing Iranian influence. These Israeli raids commenced in 2017.

The US conducts an air strike in eastern Syria, targeting a structure believed to be affiliated with Iranian-backed militias, situated near the Iraq border.


President Bashar al-Assad embarks on his first visit to an Arab country since the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011, as he travels to the United Arab Emirates. This visit signifies a potential improvement in Syria's relations with its Arab neighbours after over a decade of isolation.


This year marks a radical shift in the relationship between Syria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Additionally, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi initiates his first phone call with al-Assad.

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Bashar al-Assad

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visits Jeddah ahead of al-Assad's participation in the Arab summit on May 19. This visit marks his first trip to the Kingdom since diplomatic relations were severed. The summit is chaired by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan also visits Damascus and holds a meeting with al-Assad.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), alongside Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, holds a consultative meeting in Jeddah to discuss Syria, followed by a similar meeting in Amman in early May.

Simultaneously, a ministerial meeting involving Syria, Turkey, Russia, and Iran takes place in Moscow, following talks between the defence ministers of these countries. The meeting aims to promote reconciliation between Damascus and Ankara.

On May 7, the Arab League announces its decision to reinstate Syria's membership.

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