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• Violence is increasing in Syria as the uprising refuses to be put down and the government opts for brutal repression as the best way to handle it

• Western governments at first refrained from imposing sanctions personally on Bashar al-Assad in the hope that he could be coaxed towards choosing to open up the political system

• These hopes are fading fast and sanctions have now been imposed by both the US and the EU on Assad and members of his family

• The regime may last only as long as the armed forces remain loyal

• Syria has deep religious divisions; the Sunni Islamic majority resents rule by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shia Islam

• Both the west and Syria’s neighbours fear the consequences of a collapse of the regime, given Syria’s strategic location bordering Iraq, Lebanon and Israel and the Assad regime’s friendly relations with Iran.

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