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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

Govt forces continued to bomb jihadist-held Idlib in north west, U.S. announced 400 troops would remain in north east, and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces launched push to take Islamic State’s (ISIS) last stronghold in east. In north west, jihadist group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and al-Qaeda loyalist splinter Hurras al-Din 10 Feb reached new agreement after public spat. Leadership of HTS-linked civilian administration Salvation Govt took part in opposition conference in Bab al-Hawa on Syria-Turkey border 10 Feb; closing statement called for election of Shura council to form new civilian administration to replace Salvation Govt and for creation of military council including all Idlib’s armed factions. Govt forces 15-28 Feb shelled opposition areas in Idlib, killing at least 40 civilians. Unclaimed bombings next to Salvation Govt offices in Idlib 18 Feb killed 24 people. Russian President Putin hosted summit on Syria with Turkish and Iranian counterparts in Sochi 14 Feb; after summit, Russia said military operations against HTS in Idlib were inevitable. U.S. military 11 Feb said troop withdrawal from north east could begin in weeks. President Assad 17 Feb rejected Kurdish autonomy in north east. Russia 18 Feb insisted Turkey needed Syrian govt’s approval for military action against Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), backbone of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). U.S. 21 Feb said France and UK refused U.S. request to deploy coalition “observer force”. U.S. President Trump 22 Feb said 400 U.S. troops would remain in Syria as residual peacekeeping force to set up safe zone. Following Trump’s announcement, Turkish President Erdoğan 23 Feb evoked 1998 Syria-Turkey Adana agreement which apparently allows Turkey to conduct cross-border antiterrorist operations up to 5km into Syria, while stressing proposed safe zone in north east should be under Turkish control. In east, SDF 9 Feb launched push against ISIS’s last holdout in Baghouz area near Iraqi border; besieged fighters 20 Feb began allowing civilian evacuation. In south west, Israeli tank 11 Feb fired at alleged Hizbollah observation posts in Quneitra governorate, despite Russia’s 8 Feb warnings against Israeli attacks in Syria.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

15 Feb 2019
Too much of the public discussion around repatriating Western citizens, male or female, hinges on an assumption that letting them come home is equivalent to leniency or forgiveness. Bloomberg

Azadeh Moaveni

Senior Analyst, Gender
24 Jan 2019
Since February 2018, the Israeli-Iranian conflict visibly is no longer ‘cold'. Fanack

Ofer Zalzberg

Senior Analyst, Israel/Palestine
16 Jan 2019
President Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from Syria, but apparently spontaneously, without prior planning or coordination inside the U.S. government or with Turkey. Bloomberg

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups
21 Dec 2018
[U.S. withdrawal from Syria] basically means you throw the Kurds under the bus. The only thing the Kurds can do is throw themselves into the arms of the regime. TIME

Heiko Wimmen

Project Director, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
17 Sep 2018
A head-on attack against [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] now or later would likely destabilize northwest [Syria], prompt a bloody and maybe inconclusive fight, and potentially set off retaliatory attacks inside Turkey. This is why the Turks are pushing so hard for something that approximates the status quo. Washington Post

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups
14 Aug 2018
The U.S. wants out of Syria and wants to retain some sort of insurance policy against the return of Isis and the expanding influence of Iran. If there is a deal between the [Kurds] and the regime with both the U.S. and Russia as co-guarantors then that might be acceptable to Washington. Financial Times

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa

Latest Updates

‘Jihadi bride’ doesn’t fit: we need a new language for female militants

Tabloid sensationalism about Shamima Begum flattens important debates about how much agency these women have.

Originally published in The Guardian

The West Should Let Islamic State Recruits Come Back Home

It’s easy to see why Britons are hostile to a teenage girl who went to Syria. But barring the door would feed the next round of jihadist recruiting.

Originally published in Bloomberg

Report / Europe & Central Asia

Mitigating Risks for Syrian Refugee Youth in Turkey’s Şanlıurfa

Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, half of whom are under eighteen. Despite European aid, tensions are rising as the country strains to accommodate the influx. The answer is smarter integration policies aimed particularly at meeting the needs of vulnerable youth.

Also available in Türkçe
EU Watch List / Global

Watch List 2018 – Third Update

Crisis Group’s third update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on economic reforms in Libya, preserving the fragile quiet in Syria’s Idlib province, addressing the plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, supporting Colombia's uneasy peace process and averting violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.

Investing Diplomatically in Syria's Idlib

The Sochi agreement between Russia and Turkey succeeded in averting a Syrian regime offensive in Idlib. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 annual early-warning update for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to continue to provide diplomatic support for Turkey and engage directly with Russia to prevent an attack that would likely have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

Our People

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria