The uprising in Syria began five years ago with a small protest in Damascus on 14 March 2011, followed a few days later by larger protests in the southern city of Daraa in response to the arrest and torture of high school students who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a school wall. Coming after a string of Arab Spring uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the protests triggered panic in President Bashar al-Assad's government. Security forces responded with brute force.

Within a few months, the confrontations escalated into an armed insurgency and the conflict became one of the most savage civil wars in recent history. As the US, Iran, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and ultimately Russia poured in weapons and cash to back up opposing sides of the war, the fighting became more brutal. Massacres were committed on a massive scale, and swathes of cities were reduced to rubble.

The Syrian conflict has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions. Syria's population is estimated to have shrunk to just 16.6 million over that time, down from a pre-war level of around 22 million. In this gallery, IBTimes UK looks back at five years of brutal fighting in Syria.

Throughout the past five years, Assad has been unflinching, maintaining that he is fighting terrorism. The rise of Islamic State (Isis, Daesh) and al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, has eclipsed the original core of nationalist activists seeking an end to dictatorship — so completely that Assad claims that it's a myth that the uprising began with the arrest of students in Daraa and subsequent protests.

The United States was hesitant from day one to provide serious help to the opposition. Its top priority has been the fight against IS, and it is anxious to get everyone on board. That, and Russia's game-changing military intervention in Syria, led world powers to agree on a roadmap for a political transition that involves UN-supervised parliamentary and presidential elections within 18 months. The US and Russia engineered a partial cease-fire that excludes IS and the Nusra Front. The ceasefire took effect on 27 February. Although limited, tentative and marred by sporadic violence, it has mostly held.

On 5 March, Vladimir Putin made the surprise announcement that Russia was withdrawing troops from Syria, saying they had largely fulfilled their objectives.

Peace talks are to resume on 20 March in Geneva after a previous round collapsed because of a government offensive in Aleppo. At the heart of the talks will be such issues as a new constitution and elections. However, negotiations could collapse over the seemingly insurmountable issue of Assad's fate. Though the opposition dropped its demand that he step down before negotiations, it says it will not accept any process that doesn't end with his removal. Assad has shown no sign that he is willing to go — and it's not clear his international backers, including Russia, are willing to force him out.