The Syrian conflict since 2011 is a constellation of overlapping crises. Each of its global, regional and sub-national dimensions demands a tailored response set within an overarching framework. Instead, chronic violence and worsening suffering have killed more than 250,000 people, fueling radicalisation, refugee flight and a self-sustaining war economy. Outside stakeholders must learn from the way the Syrian conflict has repeatedly dashed unrealistic expectations on all sides. Crisis Group pursues a comprehensive approach for achieving a sustainable decline in violence and, ultimately, a political settlement. We also seek to correct dominant narratives that focus on jihadism and migrant flows, which are the symptoms, rather than the causes, of the problem.
Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Ankara has been drawn ever deeper into the crisis. Its approach will likely hold steady for now. But the choices it makes next matter for the fate of millions of Syrians.
Major battle erupted between Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and regime in northwest as Russia renewed airstrikes and Islamic State (ISIS) killed dozens in centre; collapsing currency triggered protests.
Hostilities escalated between HTS and regime, leading to fierce battle. In Idlib province, HTS 7 Aug launched raid 10km behind regime lines to destroy Russian-Syrian base, 11 Aug conducted raid on Latakia front, and 26 Aug detonated tunnel bomb beneath regime base in southern Idlib. As of 28 Aug, HTS continued to heavily shell regime forces around southern Idlib amid one of most intense battles in northwest since 2020 ceasefire, although fighting remained contained to artillery and sniper fire. Amid hostilities, Russian resumed airstrikes in Idlib: 21-22 Aug killed 15 HTS members and late Aug intensified deadly strikes across region.
ISIS attacks surged in centre. ISIS 7 Aug temporarily captured largest regime position near village of Shoula, Deir Ez Zor and two checkpoints along Raqqa-Deir Ez Zor highway. ISIS 8 Aug killed eight regime troops and pro-govt fighters in Raqqa province and 10 Aug killed at least 25 soldiers outside Mayadeen town. Upsurge in attacks may indicate group’s shift away from areas dominated by international coalition. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 18 Aug killed group’s eastern region emir in Raqqa city.
Currency crisis sparked rare anti-govt rallies. Syrian pound 16 Aug fell to 15,500 to $1 USD, sparking general strike next day in Suwayda province, protests 18 Aug in Daraa city and rare protest in capital Damascus amid reports of increased social media criticism of govt among Alawites; protestors in Suwayda city 24 Aug raided ruling party’s office. Anti-regime protests persisted late month among Druze population of Suwayda and across opposition-held northern Syria.
Hostilities erupted in northeast, regime allowed aid in northwest. In eastern Deir Ez Zor in northeast, clashes beginning 28 Aug between SDF and Arab groups reportedly killed dozens after SDF 27 Aug arrested commander. After month-long pause, Damascus 8 Aug acquiesced to UN efforts to reopen Bab al-Hawa border crossing for humanitarian aid for six months; HTS-aligned authorities in Idlib, however, rejected aid sanctioned by Damascus.
Turkey is highly unlikely to compromise on troop withdrawal [from northern Syria].
It's important to remember that [Syrian president] Assad's return to the Arab League is a symbolic measure to begin the process of ending his regional isolation.
The U.S. and Europe have made it clear that they do not agree with Arab states normalizing with the Assad regime, but there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it.
The UAE has, since 2021, embarked on a policy of diminishing tensions with other countries in the region, and normalizing with Assad is part of that.
If the UN fails to extend its operation [in Syria] via these [Turkish border] crossings, donor states should bypass the UN and do bilateral assistance themselves.
Whenever the American forces there [in Syria] are attacked, the question arises again: Why are they there?
The League of Arab States welcomed President Bashar al-Assad to its May summit, reinstating Syria’s membership, which it had suspended in 2011. The regime may look to have shrugged off the international opprobrium it earned for its brutality in repressing its opponents. But has it?
The rebels who control north-western Syria are dealing harshly with ISIS cells but have not yet crushed them entirely. The best way to stop jihadists from rebounding is to consolidate the area’s ceasefire. Outside powers can also help by sending more humanitarian aid.
Its self-declared caliphate is gone, but ISIS continues to stage attacks and intimidate the public in much of its former domain. The forces fighting the group need to hinder the militants’ movement between Syria’s regions – and, above all, to avoid debilitating conflicts with one another.
To prevent ISIS from resurging, forces fighting the group should stop it from moving across regions and avoid conflict with one another. This timeline catalogues some of the major ISIS attacks and counter-ISIS operations from 2017 to February 2022.
The UN Security Council is considering renewing an understanding whereby UN agencies transport aid to Idlib, an area held by Syrian rebels. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Richard Gowan, Dareen Khalifa and Ashish Pradhan explain why the arrangement remains essential.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to experts Dareen Khalifa and Jerome Drevon about ISIS in Syria after the death of its leader Abdullah Qardash, the precarious calm that prevails across the country and the evolution of al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in the north west, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Aleppo was devastated by bombing and shelling during the Syrian war. It remains unsafe, with residents subject to shakedowns by the regime’s security forces and various militias. Damascus and its outside backers should curb this predation as a crucial first step toward the city’s recovery.
Turkey is increasingly relying on airpower in its fight against the PKK. New parties have been drawn into the conflict as it spreads to new theatres in Iraq and Syria, which, for now at least, complicates potential efforts to settle things down.
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