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September 2014



Syria, located in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Lebanon and Turkey; it also borders Jordan and Iraq. The climate is mostly desert, with hot, dry summers and mild rainy winters along the coast. Cold weather periodically hits Damascus, to include snow and sleet.

The capital of Damascus (located at an oasis fed by the Barada River) is thought to be one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. Ethnically, Syria is 90% Arab and religiously, 87% Muslim. Arabic is the official language, however Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, and Circassian are all widely understood. More than half of Syrians live in urban areas; the major cities are: Aleppo (3.164 million inhabitants), Damascus (capital with 2.65 million), and Hims (1.369 million).

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. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 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, a member of the socialist Ba'th Party and the minority Alawi sect, 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 by popular referendum in July 2000. In May 2007 Bashar al-Asad's second term as president was approved by popular referendum. Influenced by major uprisings that began elsewhere in the region, anti-government protests broke out in the southern province of Dar'a in March 2011. The government responded to unrest with a mix of concessions and the use of force.

In December 2012, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces was recognized by more than 130 countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Unrest persisted in 2013, and the death toll among Syrian Government forces, opposition forces, and civilians has topped 100,000. In January 2014, the Syrian Opposition Coalition and Syrian regime began peace talks at the UN sponsored Geneva II conference.

CIA World Factbook, 6/2014

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