Peaceful protests have persisted across Syria over the past 14 months despite President Assad’s deployment of tanks, snipers and pro-regime thugs to quash dissent.
The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 civilians have been killed since March 2011, with thousands more injured or imprisoned.
There are 65,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and 300,000 internally-displaced civilians fleeing the regimeís crackdown.
Homs, Syria’s third largest city and the epicenter of the unrest, has been ravaged by a government siege and almost daily bombardment.
Syria’s economy has been devastated by the unrest, as well as tough sanctions applied by the United States and the European Union.
Assad has tried to paint a picture of normalcy by holding parliamentary elections and a constitutional referendum, both dismissed by the opposition as a sham.
Assadís dwindling circle of allies, which includes Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Hizballah, has provided him military, economic and diplomatic support.
Assad’s security forces face localized militias and army defectors operating under the umbrella of the “Free Syrian Army.”
The U.N. General Assembly has condemned Syria’s human rights violations and called on President Assad to step down.
A cease-fire declared by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on April 12 has failed to halt the bloodshed, as regime forces continue to attack opposition strongholds.
U.N. observers who arrived in Syria on April 15 to monitor the cease-fire have proven little deterrent to government attacks.
Multiple car bombings, including a May 10 attack in Damascus that killed at least 55 people, have fueled fears that militant Islamist groups have infiltrated the uprising.