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Posted: April 06, 2017

Syrian civil war: Why are they fighting in Syria?

In this photo taken on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 and made available Wednesday, April 5, Turkish experts carry a victim of alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syrian city of Idlib, at a local hospital in Reyhanli, Hatay, Turkey. A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria's rebel-held northern Idlib province killed dozens of people on Tuesday, opposition activists said, describing the attack as among the worst in the country's six-year civil war. (AP Photo)

By Debbie Lord, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

The United States launched a cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base Thursday in retaliation for Syria's use of banned chemical weapons that killed at least 75 civilians.

President Donald Trump, in a speech Thursday from his estate in Florida, said it was clear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” and that the attack was “in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," Trump said.

Assad had no comment as of early Friday. For the past six years of his reign as Syria’s leader, he has fought rebel forces determined to take down his regime.

Here’s a look at the Syrian civil war, what the rebels want to achieve and the toll the conflict has taken on the country.

What is the fighting about?

Syria has been embroiled in a civil war for more than six years. The fighting, which began in March 2011 in Deraa, moved to the area in and around Aleppo in 2012 and has been fierce and constant there since then.

What started the war?

Syrians have long complained about corruption in their government, and the reign of the ruling al-Assad family, according to The Associated Press. Bashar al-Assad, has been leading the country since he succeeded his father, Hafez, when Hafez died in 2000.

According to the BBC, many believe the Arab Spring movements in other Middle East countries inspired the uprising in Deraa. When the government used overwhelming force to combat demonstrations in Deraa, the rebel movement gained support from Syrians opposed to Assad.

Who is fighting?

The troops of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are fighting insurgent troops known as rebels who are trying to overthrow Assad’s government.  

Why hasn’t the government been able to defeat the rebels? 

For a number of reasons – the main one being the intervention of other countries and groups. According to the New York Times, Russia, the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia have all played roles in the war as has the Islamic State terror organization. 

Russia and Iran support Assad’s Shia government, while the United States and Saudi Arabia have – to some degree – backed rebel Sunni forces. 

How bad has the fighting been?

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died. In the city of Aleppo alone, anywhere from 250,000 to 270,000 people have been killed, according to humanitarian organizations and United Nation estimates. One monitoring group says the number is closer to 470,000 dead. The U.N. stopped counting casualties in August of 2015.

Nearly 5 million people have fled the country, many of them women and children. They have tried to relocate in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other Western countries, including the United States. The U.N. says 6.5 million people are internally displaced, meaning they are trying to find a safe haven from the fighting inside Syria, itself.

The United States and other countries have charged Assad with horrific acts during the civil war, ranging from the use of chemical weapons to mass slayings in the streets.

What kind of fighting has been seen?

In December, government forces launched a last brutal push to retake the major city of Aleppo. Pro-government forces killed 82 civilians "on the spot" as they closed in on the last rebel enclave in the city, The Associated Press reported.

According to the AP: “U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says opposition forces control just 5 percent of eastern Aleppo and the U.N. has received "credible reports" of civilians killed by intense bombing and summary executions by pro-government forces.”

When government forces retook Aleppo, there were reports of other mass killings, including reports that children were burned alive. These reports have not been independently confirmed.  

Sources: The BBC; The New York Times; The Associated Press

 Watch next: What is sarin gas? 

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