Will other countries get involved?
The international community is desperately trying to find a way to prevent Syria from sliding into civil war. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says there is little evidence Syria is complying with the peace plan negotiated by UN and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, which demands an end to violence. Mr Annan has called for stronger international action, but China and Russia oppose sanctions and military intervention.
7 December 2011 Last updated at 15:13 GMT
bbc Profile: Syria's Bashar al-Assad
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is facing the most serious challenge to his rule since he came to power in 2000 following the death of his father, Hafez.
After taking office, Mr Assad sought to present himself as a reformer.
The country initially underwent a degree of political liberalisation, with hundreds of political prisoners being released, dissidents allowed to speak openly, and a few tentative steps towards easing media restrictions.
But the pace of change soon slowed - if not reversed - and subsequent years saw the creation of "liberalised authoritarianism" rather than democratic rule.
And when protests against the government began in March 2011, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, orders were given to crush the dissent.
The brutal crackdown by Syria's security forces has not, however, stopped the uprising and many believe it is only a matter of time before President Assad is overthrown.
For Syria's security services and military, the ruling Baath Party, the massive state bureaucracies, and the dominant Alawite sect, Mr Assad represented stability and continuity when his father died after more than a quarter of a century in power.
However, Bashar al-Assad was not always destined for the highest office.
As second son, born on 11 September 1965, he had largely been left to follow his own interests. He studied at the Hurriya School in Damascus and at 14 joined the Baath Youth Movement.
He graduated from the University of Damascus with a degree in ophthalmology, intending to pursue a career in this field.
Between 1988 and 1992 he studied ophthalmology at Tishrin military hospital in Damascus, before going to London for further studies as an ophthalmologist.
After the death of his older brother, Basil, in a high-speed car crash in 1994, Mr Assad was hastily recalled from London and thrust into the spotlight.
He soon entered the military academy at Homs, north of Damascus, and rose through the ranks to become an army colonel in January 1999.
In the last years of his father's life, Mr Assad emerged as an advocate of modernisation and the internet, becoming president of the Syrian Computer Society.
He was also put in charge of a domestic anti-corruption drive, which reportedly resulted in prominent figures from the old leadership being put on trial.
Date: 2016-03-03; view: 477