US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, speaking at NATO meeting in Brussels: 'Russia has chosen to double-down on long-standing relationship with Assad' instead of fighting Islamic State as promised - @terischultz
Editor's note: Insurgents claim to have downed a helicopter in Syria's Hama province. There's no information on whether this was a Syrian helicopter or one belonging to Russia, which is carrying out operations in the area. We're monitoring Russian newswires and we'll alert you once we have more. - David
Russian Defense Minister Shoigu says direct communication line established between Russian national defense center, Turkish army central command point to prevent border-crossing incidents in air - Interfax
The Syrian Civil War (Arabic: الحرب الأهلية السورية) is an ongoing armed conflict taking place in Syria. The unrest began in the early spring of 2011 within the context of Arab Spring protests, with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad's government, whose forces responded with violent crackdowns. The conflict gradually morphed from prominent protests to an armed rebellion after months of military sieges.
The armed opposition consists of various groups that were formed during the course of the conflict, primarily the Free Syrian Army, which was the first to take up arms in 2011, and the Islamic Front, formed in 2013. In 2013, Hezbollah entered the war in support of the Syrian Army. In the east, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist militant group originating from Iraq, made rapid military gains in both Syria and Iraq, eventually conflicting with the other rebels. By July 2014, ISIL controlled a third of Syria's territory and most of its oil and gas production, thus establishing itself as the major opposition force.
By July 2013, the Syrian government was in control of approximately 30–40% of the country's territory and 60% of the Syrian population. A United Nations report in late 2012 described the conflict as being "overtly sectarian in nature", between mostly Alawite government forces, militias and other Shia groups fighting largely against Sunni-dominated rebel groups, although both opposition and government forces have denied it. Due to foreign involvement, this conflict has been called a proxy war.
As of January 2015, the death toll had risen above 220,000, with estimates in April 2015 as high as 310,000. International organizations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL and other opposition forces of severe human rights violations, with many massacres occurring. Chemical weapons have been used many times during the conflict as well. The Syrian government is reportedly responsible for the majority of civilian casualties and war crimes, often through bombings. In addition, tens of thousands of protesters and activists have been imprisoned and there are reports of torture in state prisons.
The severity of the humanitarian disaster in Syria has been outlined by the UN and many international organizations. More than 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced, more than 5 million have fled the country to nearby countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Kuwait, and a few hundred thousand have fled to more distant countries like Germany and Greece and have become refugees. Millions more have been left in poor living conditions with shortages of food and drinking water.