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January 2013



The combined death toll of Syrian government forces, opposition forces, and civilians amid unrest in October 2012 topped 30,000. Lakhdar Brahimi, current Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian crisis, in October 2012 began meeting with regional heads of state to assist in bringing about a cease-fire.

Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French administered the area as Syria until granting it independence in 1946. In 1958, Syria united with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic; in September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In November 1970, Hafiz al-Asad seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. Following the death of President al-Asad, his son, Bashar al-Asad, was approved as president in July 2000. In May 2007 Bashar al-Asad was elected to his second term as president.

Influenced by major uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, antigovernment protests broke out in the southern province of Dar'a in March 2011. The government has responded to unrest with a mix of concessions. However, the government's response has failed to meet opposition demands for Asad to step down, and the government's ongoing security operations to quell unrest and widespread armed opposition activity have led to increasingly violent clashes.

Syria has an estimated population of 22,530,746. Its capital, Damascus (located at an oasis fed by the Barada River), is thought to be one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. The majority of Syrians (74%) identify as Sunni Muslim, 16 % identify with other Muslim sects (such as Alawite, Druze), Christian of various denominations and Jews make up the rest of the population. Over 90% of the population are ethnic Arabs. Arabic is the official language, although Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, and Circassian are also widely understood.

Syria is mostly desert with hot, dry, sunny summers and mild, rainy winters along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically occurs in Damascus. Its terrain is primarily semiarid and desert plateau with a narrow coastal plain and mountains in west. Natural resources of Syria include: petroleum, phosphates, chrome and manganese ores, asphalt, iron ore, rock salt, marble, gypsum, and hydropower. Dust storms and sandstorms are the primary natural hazards facing Syria.

CIA World Factbook, 1/2013

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