Syria conflict: 5 warring factions

Syria is at the nexus of two of the Middle East's central problems: sectarian and ethnic rivalries and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Between that and its ties to anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda-inspired groups, as well as a three-decade alliance with Iran, the fallout from its uprising is likely to ripple, in unpredictable ways, throughout the region. Here's a brief guide to the actors in the conflict:

Courtesy of Reuters
PROTEST: A member of the Free Syrian Army (foreground) attended a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers May 25 in Idlib, Syria.

The Assad regime

In this April 30 file photo, Syrian security forces, background, hold their machine guns and surround anti-Syrian regime mourners, foreground, during the funeral procession of the activist Nour al-Zahraa, who was shot by the Syrian security forces on April 29, in Kfar Suseh area, in Damascus, Syria.

After 14 months of rising violence, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has shown no sign of disintegration. Only a handful of minor officials have defected. Mr. Assad has been bolstered by diplomatic and logistical support from Russia, China, and Iran, as well as by the West's reluctance to intervene militarily.

The regime also can rely on support from the minority Alawite community. At 12 percent of Syria's population, many Alawites fear persecution or worse at the hands of majority Sunnis if the regime falls. This also explains why key units of the Syrian Army have held together. The well-equipped, well-trained 4th Armored Division is about 80 percent Alawite. For them, the struggle to crush the opposition is potentially an existential one. But even if the regime holds on, it is certain there will be no return to the Syria that existed before the uprising began in March 2011.

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