What You Need to Know About What's Happening in Syria Right Now

The crisis in Syria is unrelenting, and has regularly been described by experts and observers as a horrific humanitarian crisis.

What's been happening

The civil war that has raged since 2011 has caused the deaths of an estimated 400,000 people.  More than 4 million Syrians have fled for their lives, and a further 6 million plus are displaced within the country.

A United Nations commission of inquiry says all parties to the conflict have committed war crimes—including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances and have been accused of using civilian suffering—such as blocking access to food, water, and health services through sieges—as a method of war, the BBC reports.

Despite this, countries other than Russia have been hesitant to actively insert themselves into the deadly war.

This week's update

But this week, that all changed when it emerged that a chemical weapon, Sarin gas, had been used on innocent civilians, killing 80 people. Tragic footage emerged of children suffering the effects. The Syrian government, helmed by President Bashar al-Assad, is believed to be to blame; analysts say al-Assad's regime has sought to demoralize and flatten opposition, and the nerve gas attack was the latest tactic in the strategy.

Instead, news of the attack caused a global uproar. On Wednesday the United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, warned that the U.S. government was considering action if the UN didn't intervene.  Then, President Donald Trump decided to up-end the non-interventionist policy he took to the presidential election and in a surprise move, ordered air strikes on Syria.

On Thursday, April 6, Trump made the order without taking the plan to Congress, a move that has drawn sharp criticism from across the political spectrum—although the move has now been approved by lawmakers.

The complications that come with U.S. involvement

Trump's critics say his decision was possibly unconstitutional and that his actions are in contravention of international law.

And Trump's blossoming friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to now be on hold. Russia is an ally of the Syrian government and has condemned the air strike, saying al-Assad's government is not to blame.

But other world leaders have welcomed the U.S. government's intervention.

Opposition forces within Syria had mixed reactions to the strike, with some saying they thought it was good al-Assad had been "punished" for the chemical attack. But others want to know why the U.S. waited six years to step into the fray.

The U.S. intervention has also prompted refugee advocates and human rights campaigners to ask why the government hasn't agreed to take more refugees from the war-torn nation. Instead, the current Administration has made it more difficult for Syrians fleeing the kinds of attacks that so outraged the president this week.

And that looks unlikely to change, even if the U.S. continues to intervene.

Trump also wants to reduce foreign aid to the struggling citizens of Syria, a move seen by many as exacerbating the problems faced by those trying to survive.

But signs are now coming from the White House that this airstrike is likely to be a one-off. Press Secretary Sean Spicer played down the possibility of further action on Friday, and there are reports the Pentagon is trying to re-establish better relations with Russia.

One thing is for sure though. The conflict didn't begin with the horrific chemical attack this week, and it certainly won't end with these U.S. air strikes. And while there is no clear path to peace, the continued persecution of innocent Syrians caught in the crossfire continues.

See here for ways to offer support to those impacted by the Syrian crisis.