Sanctions on Syria aim to protect Syrian civilians from the regime but may end up hurting them instead. Washington should further clarify humanitarian exemptions, specify benchmarks related to civilian protection and offer temporary easing of sanctions as long as these are met.
Militant attack and Russian airstrikes in north west strained March ceasefire, while President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath Party won parliamentary elections. In north west, Russia and Turkey 22 July conducted 22nd joint patrol since March, for first time along entire 70km route following M4 highway. After 1 and 7 July joint Russian-Turkish patrols, IED attack in southern part of de-escalation zone 14 July wounded three Russian and several Turkish soldiers; Kataib Khattab Al-Shishani, unknown group suspected to be composed of militants from Caucasus, claimed responsibility for attack. In retaliation, Russia 14 July carried out more than a dozen airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Idlib and Latakia provinces, reportedly wounding five. Russian airstrikes 15 July reportedly killed one civilian and injured at least ten, including children, in Turkish-controlled Al-Bab city. Fighting 25-29 July intensified between govt and jihadists in Jabal al-Zawiya in southern Idlib. Vehicle-borne IED 19 July reportedly killed eight and wounded 77 near the Bab al-Salama border crossing; separate IED same day injured at least 13 in the centre of Afrin. Turkish defence ministry 26 July accused Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) of bomb attack same day in Ras al-Ayn's city centre in north east that reportedly killed five. Health authorities 10 July reported first COVID-19 case in Idlib province. Amid collapsing economy and U.S. sanctions in June, President Assad’s Baath Party and coalition won 19 July parliamentary elections, third election since civil war erupted in 2011; opposition Syrian National Coalition described election as “theatrical”. Iranian state media 10 July announced reinforcement of Syria’s air defence system as part of new military cooperation agreement. Israel 20 July reportedly launched air raids on suspected Iranian and Iran-linked targets south of capital Damascus; five members of Iran-backed militia killed, and dozen more wounded, including seven govt soldiers. In response to alleged mortar fire on occupied Golan Heights, Israel 24 July struck Syrian army targets in south. UN Security Council 11 July voted to resume cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria through one border crossing from Turkey. UN 24 July announced 24 Aug meeting of Constitutional Committee comprising representatives of govt, opposition and civil society.
With the Syrian regime’s offensive in Idlib paused, the time is now for a deal sparing the rebellion’s last stronghold the full wrath of reconquest. The parties should pursue an improved ceasefire including the regime, Russia, Turkey and the Islamist militants entrenched in the province.
Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary.
A tumultuous month in north-eastern Syria has left a tense standoff among the regime, Turkey and the YPG, mediated by Russia and, to some degree, still the U.S. All parties should respect the ceasefire as the regime and YPG negotiate more stable long-term arrangements.
Rebuilding war-torn Syria poses a formidable challenge for European governments, which are unwilling to legitimise the Damascus regime by funding reconstruction. Instead, the EU and its member states could consider bankrolling small projects without regime involvement and testing an approach that trades aid for reforms.
Tens of thousands of foreign men, women and children affiliated with ISIS are detained in northeast Syria. The camps where they are held pose a formidable security and humanitarian challenge to the region. Western governments should, at minimum, accelerate the repatriation of women and children.
Once again, the Islamic State may be poised to recover from defeat in its original bases of Iraq and Syria. It is still possible, however, for the jihadist group’s many foes to nip its regrowth in the bud.
With the US Caesar Act coming into force, doing business with Syria will become even more difficult and risky.
What appears to be an unprecedented government-sanctioned Russian media campaign against Bashar al-Assad may reflect frustration in Moscow over Assad's obstinacy at a time when Syria is a lesser priority.
[...] this is an effort to minimize offending Moscow that reflects the fact that U.N. officials believe that continued cooperation with Russia is key to the future of humanitarian operations in Syria.
As the Syrian economy continues to deteriorate and violence escalates, fewer and fewer families will be able to access even the nominally available public care.
[The Syrian civilian population] think it’s suicidal to move toward the regime, or at best, it’s unknown.
These [Turkish and Russian] patrols are meant to be politically symbolic, demonstrating both countries’ ability to cut through rebel-controlled Idlib and secure the highway.
A deadly attack on Turkish forces in Syria has brought Idlib’s crisis to a dangerous crossroads. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Turkey, Syria and Russia experts explain what happened and what’s at stake.
As a humanitarian disaster unfolds in Idlib, the last bastion of Syria’s Islamist rebels, the question is whether accommodation is possible between the militants and their foes. External actors should answer by gauging the insurgents’ ability to maintain calm and their sincerity about aiding civilians.
The Syrian regime’s deliberate but devastating campaign to retake Idlib has picked up in intensity, threatening death and displacement at levels unseen in Syria’s conflict, terrible as it has been to date. Damascus and its Russian backers must conclude an immediate ceasefire with rebel forces.