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.
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.
Ceasefire in north west faced new strains, jihadist group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) sought to consolidate control in Idlib, and Islamic State (ISIS) stepped up deadly attacks. In north west, March ceasefire continued to hold despite daily shelling in southern Idlib and western Aleppo countryside; Russia 25 Sept conducted some 30 airstrikes in opposition-controlled areas, marking highest uptick in strikes since ceasefire. Following late-Aug attacks on Russian-Turkish patrols along M4 highway by unidentified assailants, Russian and Turkish forces 1 Sept held joint military trainings; Russia 15 Sept however declined participation in joint patrol, triggering speculation of impasse between countries over Idlib; Turkish FM 16 Sept described meeting between Turkish and Russian military officials as not “fruitful” while Russian FM Lavrov 21 Sept assured patrolling “would resume soon”. In Idlib, jihadist rebel group HTS reportedly cracked down on rival factions: group early Sept detained French jihadist Omar Omsen and members of rival faction Hizb al-Tahrir; alleged U.S. drone 14 Sept killed two senior commanders of Hurras al-Din – jihadist group competing with HTS – in move likely to aid HTS consolidation in Idlib city; HTS 27 Sept killed two Iraqi ISIS senior commanders in Salqin, Idlib. Confrontations between ISIS militants and regime persisted in area between Aleppo, Hama and Raqqa, raising concerns of jihadist resurgence: fighting first week of Sept killed 48 regime soldiers and 22 ISIS fighters; ISIS militants 7 Sept took control of Doubayat gas field in Homs briefly before Russian forces regained control; heavy fighting between Syrian Army and ISIS in Raqqa province 19-22 Sept reportedly killed at least 64 on both sides. In south west, high-profile assassinations targeted regime: unknown gunmen 1 Sept reportedly killed Syrian Arab Army 5th Corps leader Abdel Salam al-Masri; unknown assailants 2 Sept killed govt officer in Nawa; alleged ISIS assassinations against regime-affiliated senior figures continued, 10-15 Sept killing at least six military commanders. In north east, U.S. Central Command 18 Sept announced additional force deployments following collision last month with Russian military vehicles. Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes 3, 11 Sept struck Iran-linked targets near Iraqi border and Aleppo, respectively.
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.
The people who have been released [from detention camps in Syria] are struggling to reintegrate, and the economic situation outside is already very bad.
It seems that what is left of ISIS networks now is that they are getting organized in smaller groups of five or six people who may not be connected to each other even.
The Kurdish leadership has every reason to suspect that Russia will not push Damascus to accept anything that Turkey might interpret as protecting or legitimizing the YPG.
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.
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.