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Syria is one of the oldest civilisations on earth. It has been part of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Alexandrian, Hellenic, Egyptian, Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad and Ottoman empires. 

After the First World War, Ottoman territories were redistributed. Syria became a mandate under the League of Nations, allocated to France.  

The French imposed military and economic dominance over Syria. They ignored the Franco-Syrian treaty of 1936 that granted Syria independence. After Germany occupied France in the Second World War, the French in Syria recognised the Vichy government. They ceased  hostilities against Germany and Italy, prompting an allied invasion in 1941.  Free French, British and Commonwealth forces, including Australia, occupied Syria until 1946. 

In 1963 the Arab Socialist Baath Party seized power.  

In 1966 an internal coup replaced civilian Baath leadership. This created a division between the civilian wing and the military wing, led by Hafiz al-Assad. In 1970 al-Assad seized power of the party. Syria supported Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, and joined the US-led coalition against Iraq in 1990. In 2000 after the death of al-Assad, his son Bashar al-Assad became President.  

In 2011 anti-government protests received an aggressive response by the Assad government. Rebel groups fighting the regime emerged, including the US-backed Free Syrian Army.  

In 2013 the use of chemical weapons in Damascus prompted UN intervention. Further rebel militant groups began to emerge. In 2013 the leader of al-Qaeda announced forces in Iraq and Syria would merge under the name Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Their success in Syria prompted the US and an international coalition, including Australia, to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. 

In 2015 Russian and Iranian support for Assad lead to Russian air raids targeting anti-Assad fighters. After two more reported chemical attacks in 2017 and 2018, the US, France and the UK targeted chemical weapons facilities throughout Syria, launching more than 150 airstrikes. Fighting continues in Syria today.  

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Reviewed 15 April 2021

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