Map: Syria in c. AD 1960

Syria 1914AD – 1960AD


In World War 1, the Ottomans were driven out of Syria and Palestine by British and Arab forces. After the war, the British took control of Palestine and Transjordan, and the French took over Syria and Lebanon, all as League of Nations “mandate territories”. The British awarded Transjordan to their wartime ally, Abdullah, to rule as emir.

In World War 2, the region was again occupied by Allied forces, who granted independence to Syria and Lebanon in 1943. In 1946, Syria and Lebanon, both now parliamentary democracies, became founder-members of UN and the Arab League. From 1949 Syria was ruled by a series of military dictatorships. In 1958, Syria joined with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic.

Lebanon meanwhile remained a parliamentary democracy, under a power-sharing arrangement between the Maronite, Druze and Muslim communities.

To the south, Palestine had been the scene of violent hostility between the growing Jewish presence and the local Arab population. Rising Jewish immigration led to outright Arab revolt (1936-9). The British withdrew their forces, by now under fire from both sides, in 1948. The Jews immediately proclaimed the State of Israel, and were at once attacked by a combination of Arab states. The Jews managed to hold on to their territory, and even expand it a little: Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan (which had gained its independence in 1946 as the Kingdom of Jordan); Jordan gained territory on the West Bank; and the Gaza strip was occupied by Egypt. Israel established a western-style parliamentary system of government.

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