Syria, officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.
In English, the name Syria was formerly synonymous with the Levant, known in Arabic as Sham, while the modern state encompasses the sites of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, its capital city, Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate, and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.
The population of Syria is 74% Sunni Muslim, with a 12% Alawi population, 10% Christian, and 3% Druze. Combined, some 90% of the Syrian population is Muslim, which largely includes Arabs and significant minorities of Kurds, and Circassians. Some 10% are Christians, which mainly includes ethnic Assyrians, but also Arab Christians, and Armenians. Major ethnic minorities include Kurdish (9%), Assyrian/Syriac, Armenian, Turkmen and Circassian populations, while the majority is Arab (80%).
The modern Syrian state was established after the First World War as a French mandate, and represented the largest Arab state to emerge from the formerly Ottoman-ruled Arab Levant. It gained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was tumultuous, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949–1971. Between 1958-1961, Syria entered a brief union with Egypt, which was terminated by a military coup in Syria. Syria was under Emergency Law from 1963–2011, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered to be non-democratic.
Bashar al-Assad has been president since 2000 and was preceded by his father Hafez al-Assad, who was in office from 1971. The Syrian government since 2011 is facing massive protests as part of the Arab Spring, and is suspended from the Arab League. Furthermore, the governments of the United States, France, Spain, Bulgaria, and Libya have recognised the opposition Syrian National Council, with Libya and the United States referring to it as the sole legitimate representative of the state
From USA Today: French journalist killed in Syria
PARIS (AP) – A reporter for France 2 TV was killed Wednesday in an attack while covering violence in the restive Syrian city of Homs, the French Foreign Minister and the network said.
Gilles Jacquier was on a rare Western reporting trip authorized by Syria's embattled government amid a 10-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Another France-2 reporter was uninjured.
News director Thierry Thullier of France Televisions, the parent station of France-2, told French TV BFM that Jacquier appeared to have been killed by a mortar or rocket as part of a series of attacks.
It was the first known instance of a Western journalist dying in Syria amid the unrest. Syrian authorities have denied many efforts by Western journalists to enter the country since the uprising began.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, in a statement, said Jacquier had been killed "in an attack" in Homs, calling it an "odious act" and demanding an investigation into the killing.
"It's up to Syrian authorities to ensure the security of international journalists on their territory, and to protect this fundamental liberty which is the freedom of information."
The U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Wednesday reported fresh violence in Syria. The group said soldiers and army defectors were fighting in central Hama province. The full casualty count was unclear.