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As Conservatives seek to expand ISIL mission, five things to know about Syria

expand ISIL mission, five things to know about Syria

OTTAWA — The Conservative government is seeking Parliament's blessing to extend and expand its mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to include airstrikes inside Syria.

That country is home to a civil war and humanitarian crisis that is now entering its fifth year as various rebel groups battle the regime of President Bashar Assad. Here are five things to know about the carnage and tragedy of Syria:

1. So far, 220,000 people have been killed, including 76,000 in the last year. The war began in March 2011 as a popular uprising against the government, but Assad replied with massive force, and has been accused of targeting civilians. Some 3.9 million people have been forced to flee the country, while 7.6 million have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

2. The war has spawned several armed factions. In addition to the Syrian government's own forces, that includes ISIL, a broad grouping of al-Qaida-linked militias as well as Kurdish forces and their allies. The Syrian government commonly refers to its opponents as "terrorist gangs." In all, the BBC estimates there are 1,000 distinct armed groups in Syria with about 100,000 fighters.

3. The conflict has seen some of the most odious weapons of war. These include chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and a new weapon that appears unique to Syria, the barrel bomb — a barrel filled with explosives that is often dropped on civilian areas. Because its trajectory can't be controlled, it is sometimes referred to as a "flying IED," or improvised explosive device.

4. Aid agencies can't raise enough money internationally to support civilians forced from their homes in and around Syria. They blame donor fatigue for the fact the international community raised 57 per cent of the funds it needed in 2014, compared with 71 per cent the previous year. Some 2.6 million Syrian children no longer attend school, and 5.6 million are in need of aid — a nearly one-third increase from 2013. Canada has so far donated $700 million to the international effort.

5. The United Nations Security Council has been powerless to stop the bloodshed because one of its five permanent members is Russia, an ally of Syria that has exercised its veto against resolutions to hold Assad to account. The United States blames Russia for allowing the civil war to continue. The Harper government has often criticized the Security Council as ineffective.

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