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Syria Timeline , 2011-12

March – In several Syrian towns and cities, the Assad regime, a hereditary dictatorship, confronts peaceful protests with gunfire, beatings and arrests. The regime says it is considering reforms that include opening up the media, allowing political parties and lifting an emergency law in place since 1963.

April – In Syria, Friday demonstrators are chanting for "freedom." Four people are reported dead after security forces fire upon demonstrators in a Damascus suburb. Protests against Assad spread. Assad vows to destroy those he describes as "terrorists." In mid-month hundreds are killed, including more than 120 at "Bloody Friday" protests in Daraa, Damascus and elsewhere. The US and France ask Assad to implement reforms. The Assad regime releases some political prisoners and lifts its emergency law. Government authorities continue their oppression. In Homs the regime arrests a protest leader, Mahmoud Issa. Homs is still mourning its dead, and it is preparing for a three-day strike.

May – President Assad says his security services have made some mistakes in handling demonstrations. He says there will be no shooting at demonstrators, that anybody who does will be severely punished and that the "crisis" is over. In the city of Homs, security forces opened fire on demonstrators. The Assad regime deploys tanks in Daraa, Homs, Banyas and the Damascus suburbs. The US imposes sanctions on both Assad and senior Syrian government officials. The European Union implements an arms embargo against Syria and an asset freeze and travel ban on Syria's senior officials. On the 31st, Assad declares a general pardon for "crimes" committed before that day.

June – The Assad regime continues a crackdown against its opponents. Thirty-four are killed at a large anti-government rally in the city of Hama. The Arab League condemns Assad regime actions. In the city of Jisr al-Shughour, people strike back against Assad forces, killing 120. The regime calls them "armed gangs" while some report that the attack was by defecting security forces joined by local residents. Assad's army besieges the city. Thousands leave their homes and seek refuge in Turkey. Meanwhile, Assad speaks of having a "national dialogue" on reform. In various cities in Syria, people attend rallies in support of President Assad. In Damascus, Rateb Shallah, head of the Syrian Chambers of Commerce Federation, expresses confidence Assad's promise of reforms. Says Shallah: "I hope it will be a turning point in solving the crisis and that it will meet the demands of the Syrian people".

July –The Assad regime has begun to allow foreign journalists into the country. Deborah Amos of National Public Radio reports from Syria that the city of Hama is being run by the protesters. Turkey is harboring defectors of the Syrian Army, people who have refused to do violence against civilians. A group of these defectors announces the birth of the Free Syrian Army, led by a former Syrian army colonel, Riad Al-Asaa. The city of Hama has been described as 80 percent with the protesters and 20 percent not. Assad's forces kill hundreds in Hama. Assad's attempt at a national dialogue is boycotted by opposition groups. In the US the Obama administration gives up on Assad's reforms. It announces that Assad has "lost legitimacy". In Syria, a prominent anti-Assad singer, Ibrahim Qashoush, is pulled from a river. His throat has been cut and his vocal cords ripped out. (Told by Anthony Shadid of the New York Times.)

August – Britain, the US, European Union and others demand that Assad step down. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait recall their ambassadors from Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces: "The transition to democracy in Syria has begun." Syrian assets have been frozen and sanctions are in place against buying Syrian oil. (The European Union buys 95 percent of Syria's oil exports, which accounts for 25 percent of Syria's national income.) The protest movement in Syria is described as encouraged. Assad is reported as telling UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that military and police operations against demonstrators have ended. Syria's military continues to attack people in various cities.

September – Protest leaders in Syria have been insisting on non-violence, rejecting the path that the Libyan uprising has taken. They describe this as the moral high ground. Hope is expressed in an article published by BBC News that "the largely Sunni trading classes of Damascus and Aleppo" will desert the Assad regime as the new sanctions against Syria "begin to bite." Meeting in Istanbul, Syrian opposition groups agree on a single body, a Syrian National Council, to represent them. More than 200 "opposition figures" meet at a private farm in Syria near Damascus in an effort to unite anti-government groups.

October – The UN Security Council resolution regarding sanctions against the Assad regime is vetoed by Russia and China. Protesters in Syria are burning Russian and Chinese flags. Assad's forces shell the city of Homs. Russia's President Medvedev sends a message to Assad that he must reform or go. Amnesty International reports that in hospitals Assad's security forces are denying blood to patients with gunshot wounds. The 22-member League of Arab States denounces the killing of civilians in Syria and urges Syria (a league member) to take "necessary measures" to protect civilians. Meanwhile, Morocco, where protesters have been allowed to demonstrate remains peaceful. Not so, Libya. Qadafi is shot dead after having been found hiding in a drainage pipe in his hometown. (Libya will not be an example of foreign intervention producing peace and stability.) President Obama announces that by the end of the year the last American soldier will leave Iraq – where more than 4,400 US troops have died.

November – Syria is accused of kidnapping dissidents from Lebanon, to which Syrians have fled to avoid persecution. At an Arab League meeting in Cairo, the Assad regime agrees to end attacks against civilians, to take its troops and tanks off the streets, to allow journalists and rights groups to monitor events and to dialogue with protesters. The foreign minister of Qatar says he is "happy" concerning the agreement and with his "brothers in Syria." The Assad regime again offers the Syrian people amnesty if they surrender. The violence continues. Arab League members are outraged. The league suspends Syria and imposes sanctions. France's foreign minister, Alain Juppe, says the days of the Syrian government are "numbered."

December – On December 8, Assad tells ABC News journalist Barbara Walters that he is not responsible for the military crackdown and that he does not feel guilty because his government is doing nothing wrong. On the 9th, Friday protests are fired upon. The dead are counted as thirty-five, eleven of them in the city of Homs.On the 12th, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, evokes an equivalence argument: he says the West should condemn the opposition in Syria as well as Syria's security forces. Huge Friday demonstrations continue in Homs and elsewhere.

Assad agrees to allow Arab League observers into Syria to monitor his pledge to pull troops and heavy weapons out of civilian areas and allow access to journalists and human rights workers. His forces fire on an anti-government demonstration in Hama the day before the observers are to arrive. A massacre by a pro-Assad force in Idlib province kills a reported 200.

On the 23rd, a double suicide car bombing destroys Assad's intelligence headquarters and kills more than forty. The next day In Damascus, thousands rally for the funeral of the victims. They blame Qatar for the bombing. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby condemns the bombing.

On the 27th, 50 Arab League observers split into teams of ten to do their first day to verify Assad's peace proposal. One team visits the city of Homs. Government forces including tanks are pulled back from the city. Large anti-government protests take place in Homs, in the neighborhoods of Bab Sbaa and Khaldiyeh. A funeral march occurs in the Ghouta area. Rallies supporting President Assad and the army are reported in two other neighborhoods. (The diameter of Homs is roughly 10 miles or 16 kilometers.)

On the 28th, an activist in Homs tells Reuters News that some families of people who have killed refuse to meet with Arab League monitors because they are being escorted by an army officer.

Attacks against anti-Assad demonstrations continue. A video shows protesters in Hama being fired at and men marching through the streets, chanting "Where are the Arab monitors?"

On the 30th, people leaving Friday prayers join large anti-government rallies, emboldened by the presence of Arab League observers. Across Syria are big demonstrations. In the city of Douma, 150,000 sit-in in front of the Arab League observers. From the city of Douma come reports of security forces firing on people from roof tops. From elsewhere come reports of tear gas and nail bombs tossed at demonstrators. Men are filmed taken away by soldiers to an unknown fate, with one video showing the victim being shot at once inside a police van. State media shows government rallies and makes its usual accusations of a foreign orchestrated plot. The government appears locked-in to a hostility that prevents it from making any gesture toward reconciliation. The dictator Assad grins and waves to cheering supporters.

The conflict so far is said to have killed 5,000.

Timeline continues: More absurdity, and victims of Assad regime violence call for help from the free world (January and February, 2012).

Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.