Mar 15 - More than 70,000 people have been killed and a million forced into exile following the start of the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad two years ago. Sunita Rappai reports.
It began exactly two years ago on Friday as Arab spring revolts swept the region. Pro-democracy protesters took to the streets in Syria's capital Damascus and here in Deraa calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. In a sign of things to come, Assad's troops responded with force leaving several dead. More than 70,000 people have now been killed and a million forced into exile as the conflict descends into an increasingly bloody war with sectarian shades, pitting Syria's Sunni Muslim majority against Alawites, linked to Shi'ite Islam, like Assad. With journalists banned from reporting the conflict, what began as a trickle of amateur video uploaded by activists turned into a torrent. Assad blamed the violence on a conspiracy linked to outside elements and defied calls from the international community - minus Iran and Russia - to step down. As the bloodshed worsened, opposition leaders formed the Syrian National Council in September 2011 following the first National Salvation Conference in Istanbul in July. Increasing international pressure, including sanctions by the Arab League and a two-month ceasefire brokered by UN peace envoy Kofi Annan last year, did nothing to dampen the conflict In August last year Annan quit as international mediator to be replaced by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. The Syrian government suffered a blow the same month when the UN General Assembly passed a resolution demanding Assad step down. However, opposition groups have failed to find unity as Islamist militias in November refused to join a national coalition, hindering efforts to resolve the crisis. The violence also showed signs of spilling over last December as clashes broke out in Lebanon between local Assad supporters and opponents and Turkey responded angrily to the downing of one of its warplanes. But it is the Syrian people who continue to suffer the most. In addition to the thousands killed, latest estimates suggest that at least 2.5 million Syrians have been displaced internally with another million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.