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.
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.
Arab League readmitted Syria after 12-year suspension, Islamic State (ISIS) claimed first attack in capital Damascus since Sept 2021, and Jordan’s first airstrikes since 2015 killed drug kingpin and family.
Arab League welcomed President Assad’s return. Arab League 7 May reinstated Syria’s membership, following 12-year suspension, after Damascus promised to end captagon trafficking. Syria and Saudi Arabia 9 May announced they would each reopen diplomatic mission in the other’s capital. Assad 18 May arrived in Jeddah in first visit to Saudi Arabia since start of war and next day attended Arab League summit, amid reports of limited refugee return policy being hammered out at gathering. Meanwhile, Turkish, Russian, Syrian and Iranian FMs 10 May met in Russian capital Moscow in highest-level talks since 2011 war.
ISIS activity slowed despite deadly attack in Damascus. ISIS activity in central Syria decreased following high-intensity attacks during truffle harvesting season; regime stepped up anti-ISIS operations in Suwayda province but ceased major operations in eastern Homs. ISIS 10 May claimed IED attack in Damascus, however, killing two police officers, and in first killing of senior officer in a year, ISIS 17 May killed army colonel and several others in Raqqa province.
Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) killed Russian colonel in north west. Idlib’s dominant rebel group HTS continued harassing regime forces along north-western front with near-daily lethal sniper attacks, while regime conducted deadly artillery strikes, mainly in Idlib’s Jabal al-Zawiyah area. HTS 26 May struck regime headquarters along Latakia front, killing Russian colonel – highest-ranking Russian officer killed by rebel forces since 2016; Russia responded with bombing runs in southern Idlib, first such attacks in six months.
Jordan, Israel, Türkiye and U.S. launched airstrikes. In its first-ever airstrikes on regime-affiliated positions, Jordan 8 May bombed abandoned drug facility in southern Deraa province and killed drug kingpin and his seven-member family in Suwayda province. Israeli missiles 1 May targeted Aleppo airport, killing one soldier (see Israel-Palestine). Türkiye continued drone strikes targeting Kurdistan Workers’ Party (see Türkiye). U.S. military 3 May launched airstrike, killing man reportedly mistakenly identified as al-Qaeda member in Idlib province.
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?
Moscow also has leverage over Türkiye in other conflict zones such as Syria and the South Caucasus, as well as a vested interest in driving a wedge between Turkey and its...
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.
On 3 February, U.S. commandos raided a house in Syria’s Idlib province, killing Abdullah Qardash, head of the Islamic State’s core group in the Levant. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Jerome Drevon and Dareen Khalifa explore the implications of the ISIS leader’s demise.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Turkey expert, Nigar Göksel, about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent trip to Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Turkey’s involvement in conflicts in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus, and its wider foreign relations.
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