Since then, the conflict has morphed into a civil war, and many governments have recognized the rebels as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. The rebels control the Euphrates river and much of the north of the country, with the Assad government controlling cities in the east.
The UN estimates that 70,000 people have been killed in the war.
The fighting continues to put pressure on Syria’s minority Christian population, leading to fears that more Syrians will join the many Christians who have already left the Middle East. About 10 percent of Syria’s population is Christian.
More than 1 million refugees from Syria have flooded into Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, and inside Syria another estimated 2.5 million human persons are internally displaced. Of the 1 million refugees, in January it was estimated that some 300,000 were Christian.
The Syrian rebels are divided among secularists who support a Western-style democracy, and Islamists who may impose sharia law on the nation.
The European Union has levied an arms embargo against Syria, but some are calling for it to be lifted. Both Russia and Iran are believed to be arming the Syrian government, and this week both the UK and France have indicated a desire to arm the rebels.
“If we want to take individual action, (and) we think that is in our national interest, of course we are free to do so,” UK prime minister David Cameron said at a March 15 press conference.