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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

Unchanged Situation

Conflict Risk Alert

Govt forces with Russian air support continued to advance into rebel-held Idlib province in north west killing hundreds of civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands raising risk that Turkey responds with force against govt troops in coming weeks; in north east and east fighting between Turkey and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) subsided, but Islamic State (ISIS) upped operations against SDF and govt forces. In north west, govt and Russian forces continued aerial bombardments in Idlib province throughout month, notably govt bombardment on Idlib city 15 Jan killed nineteen civilians. Govt offensive in area south of Maarat al Numan 16 Jan left at least 26 rebel fighters and 29 govt soldiers dead; govt 28 Jan regained control of town. Russian airstrikes 21 Jan killed over 40 civilians in rural Idlib province. State media 22 Jan claimed rebel shelling of western neighbourhoods of Aleppo city killed three civilians. Turkish President Erdoğan 29 Jan criticised Russia for not abiding by its commitments under Sochi and Astana accords in Idlib. UN same day said violence in Idlib province had displaced nearly 390,000 in past two months. Amid rising number of displaced persons, Erdoğan 31 Jan expressed concern at new threats near Turkey’s border and said Turkey ready to take necessary steps including using military force in Syria. In north east, in Raqqa ISIS mid-Jan carried out first open attack against govt forces since 2017, killing one soldier. In east, ISIS 2 Jan claimed responsibility for attack on SDF checkpoint in Abu Hamam, Deir al-Zour province that killed nine SDF troops. Govt 14 Jan said ISIS attack in Badia region of Deir al-Zour killed four soldiers. Russian President Putin visited President Assad in Damascus 7 Jan to discuss military situation. UN Security Council 10 Jan voted to renew resolution 2165 mandating cross-border aid into Syria, reauthorising delivery through two crossings between Turkey and Syria (Bab al Salameh and Bab al Haweh crossings) for another twelve months, but discontinuing delivery through crossings at al-Ramtha (from Jordan) and Al Yarubiyah (from Iraq).

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

14 Feb 2020
Escalation is likely going to continue [in Syria] as long as Turkey and Russia cannot agree on a new cease-fire. NBC News

Berkay Mandıracı

Analyst, Turkey
12 Feb 2020
Damascus never budged in its desire to regain 'every inch of Syria.' Idlib is no exception to that. Bloomberg

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
9 Feb 2020
Despite their cooperation in several areas in Syria there are unfortunately many glaring communication issues between Ankara and Moscow. The Guardian

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
27 Jan 2020
[Moscow and Damascus'] idea is to strangle the areas [in Idlib] and empty them, before they advance. Washington Post

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
8 Oct 2019
L'EI constitue toujours une menace qui pourrait métastaser si les FDS voient leur attention et leurs ressources détournées [...] au profit d'une bataille défensive contre la Turquie. Le Nouvel Obs

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups
7 Oct 2019
[By deciding to withdraw its troops from North East Syria] the United States just threw away the last leverage it had. The New York Times

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria

Latest Updates

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.

Also available in العربية

Ways out of Europe’s Syria Reconstruction Conundrum

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.

Also available in Русский, العربية

Women and Children First: Repatriating the Westerners Affiliated with ISIS

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. 

Also available in العربية

Assessing the Fatalities in Turkey’s PKK Conflict

Turkey’s ruling party sees recent battlefield and electoral gains as vindicating its hardline policies toward the PKK. But these same policies fuel the Kurdish grievances that keep the fighting going. Ankara would thus be wise to consider exploring ways of winding down the destructive conflict.

Our People

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria