Skip to main content

'Open-ended' Syrian conflict draws in region

By Matt Smith, CNN
June 1, 2013 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
HIDE CAPTION
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
144
145
146
147
148
149
150
151
152
153
154
155
156
157
158
159
160
161
162
163
164
165
166
167
168
169
170
171
172
173
174
175
176
177
178
179
180
181
182
183
184
185
186
187
188
189
190
191
192
193
194
195
196
197
198
199
200
201
202
203
204
205
206
207
208
209
210
211
212
213
214
215
216
217
218
219
220
221
222
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Syria's civil war "is no longer an internal struggle," analyst says
  • The conflict has jumped across the Turkish, Iraqi and Lebanese borders
  • U.N. official warns the fighting "is destabilizing the region as a whole"

(CNN) -- Rocket attacks in Lebanon. Car bombs in Turkey. Israeli airstrikes in Syria.

In the two-plus years since President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on "Arab Spring" demonstrations, observers say the civil war that grew out of it has now become a multi-sided conflict that threatens to set the wider Middle East ablaze.

"The Syrian conflict is no longer an internal struggle between Assad and the internal opposition," said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. "It's an open-ended war by proxy -- Iran, Hezbollah and Syria, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, plus Russia and the United States."

ANALYSIS: EU ends embargo -- what next?

In the meantime, he said, Syrian society is disintegrating. And after more than 70,000 deaths inside the country, the conflict is increasingly jumping the borders.

Syria's new ground zero
Syrian rebel: A massacre is coming
Assad plans to seek re-election in 2014
Should Syrian rebels be given weapons?

The past few weeks have seen a pair of car bombs kill dozens of people in a town that has welcomed some of the 300,000-plus Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey.

Turkish officials said the bombings were carried out by members of a former Marxist terror group with ties to Syria's intelligence services; Syria denied responsibility, but said Turkey ,a NATO ally, had been helping "terrorists" get weapons and money.

Meanwhile, the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have backed Sunni rebel factions against al-Assad, a member of the Shiite offshoot Alawite sect. The European Union is lifting an arms embargo on Syria after Britain and France refused to agree to an extension.

OPINION: More arms to Syria is a mistake

But on the battlefield, the momentum that appeared to be on the rebel side earlier this year now seems to have shifted to al-Assad, said Robin Wright, a Middle East analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

"That will go back and forth," Wright told CNN. "The tragedy of this is the inflow of weapons just means more people are going to be killed, and there doesn't seem to be a military outcome likely on either side anytime soon."

France says Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite militia backed by Iran and Syria, has dispatched up to 4,000 fighters to Syria to bolster al-Assad's forces. Gerges said those fighters have "already produced major results," particularly in the ongoing battle for the strategically located border town of Qusayr.

Rocket attacks have struck Shiite towns inside Lebanon, where a fragile sectarian and political balance has held since the end of a civil war that wracked the country from 1975 to 1990. And three Lebanese soldiers were killed by unidentified gunmen who opened fire on their checkpoint this week, Lebanon's national news agency reported.

MORE: American woman killed in Syria

Walid Jumblatt, a veteran Lebanese political leader and a former Syrian ally, contends the conflict threatens to reopen Lebanon's old wounds. But he said confronting Hezbollah over its involvement "will just lead us to the sectarian warfare that is starting in Iraq, in Syria and might spread to Lebanon."

"I'm more concerned about the stability of my country," Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze minority, told CNN's "Amanpour."

Fighting has also spilled over into Iraq, with jihadist groups on both sides of the border growing in strength, Western counterterrorism officials warned in March.

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq, the al Qaeda affilliate that has bedeviled Baghdad for years, said it had killed at least 40 Syrians in an ambush on a Syrian convoy inside Iraq. The troops were being escorted by Iraqi forces to the only border post the Syrian government still controlled.

"The increasing number of foreign fighters crossing Syria's borders to support one side or the other is further fueling the sectarian violence and the situation is beginning to show worrying signs of destabilizing the region as a whole," Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned Wednesday.

Then there's Israel, which is believed to have conducted at least two airstrikes inside Syria to prevent Syrian forces from transferring advanced missiles to Hezbollah.

Israel braces for the worst with Syria
Who are the Syrian rebels?
What's next in Syria?
American woman killed in Syria

MORE: Russian fighter jets heading to Syria

Israel fought a month-long war with Hezbollah in 2006 and never signed a peace agreement with Syria after the 1948, 1967 and 1973 Mideast wars.

Syria said Thursday that Russia, its most powerful ally, will deliver on a 2010 purchase of advanced anti-aircraft missiles. Moscow has defended the deal, saying it falls within international law and that the missiles aren't designed for use against civilians.

Gerges said the deal is a strong Russian signal to the West: "Stay away from Syria."

"Russia is the backbone of the Assad regime. It has provided them with arms. It has provided them with political support. It has used its veto twice in the (U.N.) Security Council. It has gone to great lengths to prevent any kind of military intervention in Syria," he said.

The United States has provided non-lethal aid and political support to the Syrian opposition, but the Obama administration has resisted calls to provide military aid to the rebels.

At the same time, Washington is trying to work with Russia to coax the opposition and the government to peace talks, concerned about "a region-wide conflict," Gerges said.

"That's why they have intensified their diplomacy to rescue Syria from really all-out destruction and also rescue the entire region from a region-wide conflict where American and international peace and security are really at stake," he said.

But the opposition Syrian National Coalition said Thursday that it wouldn't take part "when Syrians are constantly being hammered by the Assad regime with the help of outside forces," as George Sabra, its acting chairman, put it.

The opposition remains split along secular and sectarian, military and political lines. Those divisions have been "a real obstacle" to negotiations, Wright said.

"Both the United States and Russia have agreed that diplomacy is necessary, and they haven't been able to agree on that, even, for a long time," she said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0823 GMT (1623 HKT)
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0422 GMT (1222 HKT)
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0933 GMT (1733 HKT)
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1130 GMT (1930 HKT)
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT