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Will Strikes End Conflict in Syria? - Facts & Infographic

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Location: Mediterranean Sea's eastern shore in the Middle East

Population: 21 million which is around 2 million more than the population of New York state

Area: 185,000 which is same as that of Washington state

Major Ethnic Groups

(Pie chart)

Major Cities: Damascus (capital), Homs, Hamah, Aleppo

Syria's economy:

Before Civil War – Agriculture (22%), retail (23%), tourism (12%), industry and excavation (25%)

After Civil War – Economy has declined by 35% (according to New York Times)

  • Unemployment has increased fivefold

  • Syrian currency depreciated to 1/6th of the prewar value


Healthcare Infrastructure:

German News agency Der Spiegel reported only 30 state-run hospitals are in operation out of 75

and 50 % infrastructure for healthcare in Syria has been destroyed.



Syrian Civil War

The Syrian civil war, also known as the Syrian crisis broke out as an armed conflict between the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party government led by President Bashar Al-Assad, and rebel forces seeking his ouster. Among the primary demands of the protesters, who initiated demonstrations on March 15, 2011, were - resignation of President Assad, end of the Ba'ath regime (the party had been in power since 1963), and end to the 48 year old state of emergency in the country .

Within days the protests escalated to violent demonstrations and clashes between the Syrian Armed Forces (defending the Assad regime) and the protesters. Unlike other countries that broke out in the Arab Spring, Syria could not remove its dictator with ease. By the end of 2011, the protests had taken the form of a full-fledged civil war. The military was opposed by rebel groups mostly comprising soldiers and civilians who took up arms with an intention to oust Assad, who refused to step down.

The president has been accused of cruelty, killing, torture, and unlawful detention of the opposing forces. President Assad has been severely criticized by the US, the EU, the Arab League and the international community at large for the use of violence. The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition in Syria, has now been recognized as the true representative of the Syrian people in many international forums.

While the conflict gravitates towards Damascus, there are reports of clashes from cities across the country. In 2013, the entry of Islamist militant group Hezbollah in support of the Syrian army gave the civil war a more sectarian perspective. Of Syria’s 21 million population about 74% is Sunni and the rest are Christians, Alawites (Sunni faction to which the majority of the Assad administration belong), and others. The Syrian government receives critical military support from Russia and Iran, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia lend arms support to the rebels. In June 2013, the United Nations reported that the death toll in Syria was over 100,000. According to UN reports, over seven million people have been displaced due to the ongoing civil war in the country of which almost two million have sought refuge in other countries. The Syrian Civil War has become the subject of contention in the international community due to the escalating scale of human rights violations in the country. 130,000 people in the country are still missing.


Use Of Chemical Weapons

By mid-2012, the international community grew increasingly concerned about the use of chemical weapons by the Assad administration. The concerns stem from the fact that Syria is believed to own the third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world.

The Assad administration was first accused of using chemical weapons in December 2012 when Al Jazeera published reports that a gas attack in al-Bayyada (Homs) had killed a number of civilians. While Syria outrightly denied all such allegations, the use of SCUD missiles in March 2013 strengthened the suspicions. By this time, the Syrian administration and the rebel forces accused each other of chemical warfare. By June 2013, British and French scientists announced that they had reasonable grounds to believe that the Assad administration had been using chemical weapons.

On June 13, 2013, the Obama administration announced that there was definitive proof of the use of chemical weapons (specifically Sarin gas, a nerve agent) on multiple occasions in Syria. While Assad claimed that rebels had used chemical weapons, the US said that there was no proof that the rebels had access to chemical arms.

On August 30, 2013, the US government published reports with evidence of the use of chemical weapons in the country. According to US Secretary of State John Kerry, chemical attacks (use of Sarin gas) on rebels near Damascus, on August 21 claimed over 1,492 lives. Among the dead were 426 children and a number of civilians.

Nonprofit organization Doctors Without Borders treated 3,600 patients for “neurotoxic symptoms”

on the day of the attacks in the three hospitals it supports.

Inspectors investigating the alleged gas attack collected information for a preliminary report to be presented to the UN. The investigating team left Syria via the Lebanese border on August 31, 2013, sparking off concerns that a US-led strike is in the offing.

Russia has been unequivocal in rejecting all claims of the use of chemical weapons by Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin is reported to have said, “While the Syrian army is on the offensive, saying that it is the Syrian government that used chemical weapons is utter nonsense”.


Britain Votes

On Thursday, August 29, 2013, the British Parliament voted against the possibility of backing military action in Syria. David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister said that his government would act according to the wishes of the lawmakers and not proceed without the approval of the parliament. 272 MPs voted in favor of a military strike in Syria, of which 241 were Conservatives and 31 Liberal Democrats. Of the 285 MPs who voted against the motion, there were 30 conservatives, 11 Liberal Democrats, 223 from the Labour party and 21 others. There were 91 MPs who were absent from the voting. While the votes are non-binding on the Cameron administration, a failure to gather no support even at a symbolic vote meant that there would be no second-round vote. The Members of Parliaments who voted against the nation are unapologetic. They believe that the vote was closer to the sentiments of the people of the UK than the political ambitions of the ministers. A BBC poll confirmed that the people of UK supported the negative vote.


Support For Syria

Through the civil war and crisis, Syria has managed to retain the support of some major nations including Russia, China, and Iran.

Apart from being one of Syria's traditional allies, Russia is also the country's principal arms suppliers. Syria has over $4 billion worth contracts with the Russian defense industry. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia sold about $162 million worth arms to Syria in 2009 and again arms worth the same amount in 2010. Russia is also ideologically opposed to any American interference in the politics of the region and has warned that a military strike could put off the Geneva peace talks indefinitely. The Syrian opposition has also threatened to pull out of peace talks in Geneva following the alleged use of chemical weapons. The Geneva peace conference was previously agreed to by the Assad administration and the G8 nations have been keen to get both sides to negotiate a peaceful transition in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the US was trying to “create artificial groundless excuses for military intervention.” Russia is also believed to have dispatched an anti-submarine ship and a guided-missile cruiser to bolster its naval strength in the Mediterranean Sea in support of Syria. The Russian warships are equipped with devices that could detect cruise missile firings from American vessels and are likely to warn Damascus of such firings. They are also capable of jamming the electronic systems of American vessels and could interfere with radar and communications on other ships.

While China is not an active supporter of the Assad regime, it also does not condone international interference in Syrian politics. China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has blocked attempts to impose sanctions against the Assad regime making it impossible for the Security Council to take meaningful action.

Iran is a key ally of Syria. Both the countries are bound by close Shi’ite ties. Iran the world’s most populous Shi’ite country is likely to be very staunch in resisting the dominance of the rebel groups of Syria which are dominated by the Sunnis. Hezbollah, the Shi’ite Islamic political and paramilitary organization based in Lebanon is reportedly fed by arms from Syria. The Hezbollah is a major factor in Iran’s rivalry with Israel.


A Divided Council

On August 28, 2013, a United Nations Security Council resolution, proposed by the UK, authorizing the use of force in Syria failed to gain consensus. Russia and China are two members likely to use the veto to block any such action. In the meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is waiting to consider the UN weapons inspectors' reports about the use of chemical weapons before deciding to take any action.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also hopes that the G20 summit in Russia will be an appropriate platform to broker peace in Syria. The summit will be attended by many world leaders, including those directly involved in the Syrian crisis such as President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin.


A US Military Strike - Opinions

According to a late-August NBC News Poll, only about 21% Americans think that military action in Syria would be in the national interest of the US while 33% don't agree and the rest 45% don't have an opinion

Only about 27% thought that the situation in Syria would improve with a US military strike against the 41% who think the other way. About 50% were not supportive of a US attack on Syria while 42% supported it. An overwhelming 80% want the US president to seek the approval of the Congress before initiating action.

Congress decision will take at least 10 days and will not happen till September 9 due to the summer recess.

The poll respondents are increasingly supportive of US military action in Syria when limited to launching cruise missiles from US naval ships — about 50% favor such intervention, and 44% oppose it.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos Poll for the week (Mon-Friday) ending Aug 30, 2013, 53% poll respondents said that the United States should stay out of Syria's civil war. This response is a dip from 60% such responses the previous week. The protracted, expensive war in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have made Americans very apprehensive.

On August 31, 2013, President Obama moved to seek the approval of the Congress. From the White House Rose Garden, the President announced, "Today I'm asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move as one nation”. If the Congress were to approve the move, the assent could take about 10 days to come through.

Jonathan Marcus, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent says US is setting the stage for a possible attack – “Mr Kerry's speech was a clear and powerful statement of the rationale for military action against Syria. The focus was placed entirely upon deterring the Syrian authorities from ever using chemical weapons again”

If the US decides to strike, however, it may find a few European allies. President Hollande of France said that France would support a firm punitive action against President Assad and his administration. Germany, though not supportive of military action in Syria, is keen to push Syria towards peace talks at Geneva.

Israel for its part could be a major ally for a limited attack by the Americans. The status quo between the Assad troops and the rebels works well for Israel. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.” - Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli Consul General.


US Buildup In The Mediterranean

By late August 2013, the United States had sent at least six warships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in anticipation of the likely preemptive strike on Syria. Five of these warships are destroyers armed with long-distance cruise missiles. The sixth and latest warship to join the buildup is the USS San Antonio. San Antonio is an amphibious ship and unlike the other five, has several hundred US Marines on board. These Marines could be deployed on the ground, if the US were to initiate military action in the region.

On August 29, 2013, the San Antonio crossed the Red Sea and transited through the Suez Canal but was sent to the eastern Mediterranean the very next day to stay in close proximity to the destroyers. Three of these ships are reportedly carrying over 2,200 Marines on a six-month deployment in the region. US defense officials believe that if there were to be a strike, it would be limited in its scope targeted at disabling the Syrian Military. This means that between 200 and 300 Tomahawk cruise missiles could be deployed in case of a strike. Each of the destroyers is now estimated to be carrying three dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Before any move is taken to initiate military action, the US will need to consider the possibility of a conflict with Russia. As former Congressman Ron Paul remarked, “The danger of escalation with Russia is very high”.


Latest Developments

September 3, 2013 – US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “There will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.”
September 4, 2013 – US President Obama steps up lobbying efforts to seek support for military action in Syria. He met leading Congressional leaders including John A. Boehner to seek both Democratic and Republican support.
September 4, 2013 – Russian President Putin calls John Kerry a liar and denies American claims that the al-Qaeda is fighting alongside Assad’s forces in Syria.
September 5, 2013 – “To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” – says Pope Francis in a letter to the G-20 leaders

September 6, 2013 - G-20 summit starts in St. Petersburg; leaders discuss Syria
September 9, 2013 – US Congress to return from summer break; will vote to decide the resolution.
September 11, 2013 – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will then take up the military action authorization bill. The bill limits the authorization of military action to 60 days, and provides the US government the choice to extend the deadline by 30 days.

Latest updates on Syria – US Attacks Syria


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Will Strikes End Conflict in Syria.

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