Syria’s bloody civil war enters its 10th year with the government of President Bashar al-Assad appearing to be consolidating his hold on power, backed by crucial military and political support from Russia and Iran.
The conflict began when Syrians took to the streets on March 15, 2011, to protest against Assad’s government, which then launched a brutal crackdown that has led to a conflict that has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions.
Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, said on the eve of the anniversary: “The suffering of the Syrian people during this tragic and terrible decade still defies comprehension and belief.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres wrote on Twitter this week that “a decade of fighting has brought nothing but ruin and misery.”
The conflict at times has resembled a proxy war among world powers, with Moscow and Tehran backing Assad while the United States and Turkey have supported differing rebel groups.
The Islamic State (IS) militant group also entered the fray and were opposed by all other sides. They have been driven from most of their strongholds, although some extremists continue to hold out in Idlib Province in the northwest of the country.
“Nine years of revolution illustrate the extent of the suffering we have known, between exile, bombings and deaths,” Hala Ibrahim, a rights activist who lives in Idlib Province, told AFP news agency.
“I left my university, my house, which was bombed. We’ve lost everything,” the woman in her 30s said.
Syrian forces, backed by Russian warplanes, have heavily bombarded in the province, targeting the remaining rebels, but they have also killed an estimated 500 civilians — along with dozens of Turkish forces, who are attempting to create a buffer zone in the border region, raising the possibility of an armed conflict between Damascus and Ankara.
The United Nations says that a million people have been forced to flee, creating a humanitarian disaster and threatening to ignite a new migrant crisis in Europe.
A cease-fire came into effect this month in the northwest, with Turkish and Russian forces set to carry out joint patrols in Idlib, but violations of the truce are often reported.
Russian state-run TASS news agency reported that the first joint Russian-Turkish patrol of the M-4 Highway connecting Al-Hasakah and Aleppo in northern Syria will take place on March 15.
The UN has brokered talks among warring parties, while Russia, Turkey, and Iran have held simultaneous negotiations — often in Kazakhstan — but a wide-ranging solution remains difficult to find.
The so-called “Astana format” talks have been held in the Kazakh capital since 2015. A new round was scheduled for March, but Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi said it is unlikely take place planned.
“[The suggestion to hold the talks in March] was made in December, but now the situation has changed… It is very likely that the talks will not be held [in March],” Tileuberdi told reporters on March 10, without giving any other details.