Ten things about Syria

1. Syrian groups opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad (top), which has basically been involved in a civil war for nearly 20 months, formally united on November 13 in Doha to form the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

2. Moaz al-Khatib is the coalition's leader. The Guardian described him as a "religious moderate with impeccable revolutionary credentials". He is the former imam of a Damascus mosque and a geologist by training. He fled Syria in July after several periods of imprisonment.

3. November 9 marked the high point in refugee movement out of Syria: 11 000 people fled to neighbouring countries in one day. There are already 400 000 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

4. The United Nations said that millions in Syria, as well as refugees, might need humanitarian aid soon. A UN official said: "If the current rate of conflict continues at the current pace, we can reasonably project the numbers [of those] in need to rise from 2.5-million to four million by early new year."

5. Damascus, the capital of Syria, is the longest continually inhabited city in the world.

6. The name Syria comes from the Assyrians, a kingdom that emerged in Mesopotamia in the 2000s BC and later built an empire across the Middle East.

7. The present borders of Syria were set by the Western powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

8. Under this deal (known as the Sykes-Picot agreement), Syria was a French "protectorate".

9. In 1925 Syrians, led by Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, rose up against the French and defeated them at the Battle of Al-Kafr. But French military superiority eventually crushed the rebellion by 1927. Al-Atrash fled Syria, returning only in 1937 after a treaty with the French had been concluded.

10. Finally, in 1946, the French withdrew from Syria and it became a fully independent republic.

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