Beirut: Since 2011 Syria has been ravaged by a war which has killed 370,000 people and displaced millions.
Here are some key facts about the country ruled since 2000 by President Bashar al-Assad.
– Devastating conflict –
Syria’s civil war was sparked by the Assad regime’s bloody repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests.
It has since spiralled into a complex conflict involving rebels, jihadists and foreign powers.
Opposition fighters and jihadists overran large parts of the country in the first years of war.
But since Russia’s military intervened by Assad’s side in 2015, the regime has notched up a series of victories against them.
The government is also backed by Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
By late 2018, the regime was back in control of nearly two-thirds of the country.
The fighting has forced more than half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million to flee their homes.
More than six million Syrians have been displaced inside their country, the United Nations says.
More than five million have fled abroad, mostly to neighbouring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, its says.
Tens of thousands of Syrians have been arrested, abducted or listed as missing.
– Economy in tatters –
The war is estimated to have set Syria’s economy back by three decades, destroying infrastructure and paralysing the production of electricity and oil.
Whole areas and towns lie in ruins.
Its industry has been shattered and exports fell by 92 percent between 2011 and 2015, dropping from $7.9 billion to $631 million in value, according to the World Bank.
In August 2018, the United Nations estimated the cost of war damage at $400 billion (345 billion euros).
According to the World Food Programme, some 6.5 million people in Syria are suffering from lack of food.
– Independent since 1946 –
From 1516, Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire. When the empire was dismantled after defeat in World War I, Syria was placed under a French mandate.
The country gained independence in April 1946.
In March 1949, the first of several coups took place, leading to a period of political instability.
In February 1958, Syria and Egypt merged to form the short-lived United Arab Republic (UAR), which Damascus left in 1961.
– Assads in power –
In March 1963, the socialist Arab Baath party came to power, after a military putsch, and enforced martial law.
The defence minister, General Hafez al-Assad, seized power in November 1970.
Four months later, he became the first Syrian head of state from the minority Alawite community, a branch of Shiite Islam which makes up around 10 percent of the population of mainly Sunni Muslim Syria.
In February 1982, the regime clamped down on an Islamist insurgency in the central town of Hama. For around a month, it was gripped by rioting and a crackdown by an elite paramilitary force commanded by Assad’s brother, Rifaat, that left thousands dead.
In 2000, on the death of his father, Bashar al-Assad was named president after an election in which he was the sole candidate.
– War with Israel –
Syria is officially in a state of war with Israel, which since 1967 has occupied most of Syria’s Golan Heights, annexing it in 1981.
Since the start of the conflict in Syria, Israel has carried out numerous air raids against Assad’s regime and also against his allies, Iran and Hezbollah.
– Lebanon –
The Syrian army entered Lebanon on June 1, 1976, one year into its civil war, at the request of the Christians who were losing the battle against Palestinian and Muslim forces.
Two years later, it turned against the Christians, going on to hold two-thirds of Lebanese territory and become for nearly 30 years the main foreign power-broker, with thousands of troops in the country.
It was forced to withdraw its deployment after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, which some linked to Damascus.
– Heritage in danger –
Syria’s extraordinary archeological heritage has been a victim of the war and also of theft and looting, with the jihadist Islamic State group ravaging numerous sites.
UNESCO has six Syrian sites on its list of endangered heritage, including Aleppo, Damascus, the ancient desert town of Palmyra, and the Crusader fortress near Homs known as Crac des Chevaliers.