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Syria

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.

CrisisWatch Syria

Improved Situation

Turkey and Russia agreed temporary ceasefire in Idlib province in north west halting most fighting and freezing regime offensive toward Idlib city, but jihadist attack on Turkish convoy in Idlib sparked clash between jihadists and rebels; from mid-March authorities took measures to slow spread of COVID-19. Turkish President Erdoğan and Russian President Putin met in Moscow 5 March and agreed to halt hostilities in Idlib along current front lines, allowing Syrian regime forces to keep control over areas taken during offensives in Feb and remain within striking distance of Idlib city. Deal includes creation of “security corridor” running along M4 highway between Latakia and Aleppo and extending 6km either side and launch of joint Turkish-Russian patrols along highway. Protesters 15 and 23 March forced joint patrols to turn around. Pro-opposition media 19 March reported that al-Qaeda aligned group Hurras al-Din attacked Turkish forces on M4 highway; attack sparked clashes between militants of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and unidentified group along road. Turkish Defence Ministry confirmed earlier rocket attack by unnamed “radical group” along M4 highway killed two Turkish soldiers. In response to COVID-19 crisis, President Assad 14 March postponed parliamentary elections scheduled for 13 April to 20 May and closed schools, mosques and several public offices; govt 23 March also closed border with Lebanon. In north west, Turkish-aligned opposition authorities Syrian Interim Govt took steps mid-March to slow and monitor spread of COVID-19 and opened three quarantine centres. In north east, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 23 March closed all crossings into govt-controlled territory to reduce COVID-19 spread; 24 March endorsed UN Sec-Gen’s call for humanitarian ceasefire to combat virus. Islamic State (ISIS) detainees 29-30 March rioted in prison in Hasakah city; militants gained control of areas of prison and attempted to break out. SDF 30 March reported four escaped detainees had been captured. Govt 31 March announced interception of Israeli missiles targeting Al-Shayrat airbase in Homs province (centre).

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

6 Apr 2020
[...] 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. New York Times

Richard Gowan

UN Director
27 Mar 2020
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. Vox

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
25 Mar 2020
[The Syrian civilian population] think it’s suicidal to move toward the regime, or at best, it’s unknown. Washington Post

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
17 Mar 2020
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. Arab News

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
27 Feb 2020
Getting out [of Idlib] altogether, allowing the refugees to come into Turkey and letting Assad take that space is not an idea that’s going to resonate with Turkish society. Financial Times

Nigar Göksel

Project Director, Turkey
24 Feb 2020
Russia can help the Syrian regime crush Idlib if it is willing to absorb the grave cost of victory. If it hopes to spare itself that cost it needs to strike a new agreement to which HTS is a counterparty. TRT World

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria

Latest Updates

Q&A / Europe & Central Asia

Deadly Clashes in Syria’s Idlib Show Limits of Turkey’s Options

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.

The Eleventh Hour for Idlib, Syria’s Last Rebel Bastion

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.

European Challenges in Confronting the Fate of ISIS Returnees

1,450 ISIS-affiliated European nationals are being held in camps in Syria, where they suffer from squalor and violence. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU member states to take responsibility for their nationals and bring them home – starting with children and women.

Editorial in the Washington Post: The World Must Do Something about the Children of ISIS Fighters

On 12 January 2020, the Editorial Board of the Washington Post cited International Crisis Group's recommendation of pursuing a  “Women and Children First” policy in repatriating Western ISIS affiliates – and warned about the risks to humanitarian values and security of failing to do so.

Originally published in Washington Post

Steadying the New Status Quo in Syria’s North East

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.

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Our People

Sam Heller

Adviser, Non-state Armed Groups
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Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
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