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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

Deteriorated Situation

Conflict Risk Alert

Regime intensified bombing of rebel-held Damascus suburb and, with Turkey expanding and entrenching its position in north west, U.S. and Russian-aligned forces clashing in east and Israel and Iran-aligned forces in south, Feb saw marked internationalisation of conflict, increasing risk of regional escalation in March. In Damascus, regime 18 Feb escalated aerial bombardment of Eastern Ghouta; over 580 civilians reported killed 18-27 Feb and rebel shelling killed at least seventeen civilians in regime-held areas of city. UN Security Council’s 24 Feb resolution demanding 30-day countrywide ceasefire went unheeded. Russia called for daily five-hour local truces in Eastern Ghouta from 27 Feb to allow humanitarian access; pro-regime bombing and rebel retaliatory shelling continued 27 Feb, regime halted airstrikes during five-hour truce 28 Feb but resumed afterwards and launched ground offensive on enclave’s eastern edge. In north west, Turkey and allied rebels continued offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin enclave, expanding narrow zone of control along its edge. Amid negotiations between Kurds and govt over Afrin’s defence, govt-aligned forces 20 Feb entered enclave to help repel Turkish assault, but do not appear to have slowed Turkish gains. U.S. increased visible military presence in Kurdish-controlled Manbij, about 100km east of Afrin, which Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack unless Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) withdraw from city. Following mid-Feb visit to Turkey by U.S. Sec State Tillerson, U.S. and Turkey agreed to form working group to address points of contention, particularly Manbij. Regime halted offensive against rebels east of Idlib province after Turkey 5 Feb started deploying additional de-escalation control forces along front lines between govt and rebels, coordinating move with Russia and jihadist alliance Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Islamist group Noureddine al-Zenki 20 Feb attacked HTS in western part of Aleppo province, inflicting heavy losses late Feb. In Deir al-Zour province in east, U.S. forces 7 Feb repelled offensive by pro-regime forces across Euphrates River, which marks de-confliction line separating U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and govt-aligned forces backed by Russia and Iran; U.S. strikes reportedly killed over 100, including many Russian mercenaries. U.S. airstrikes 25 Feb on Islamic State (ISIS)-held Al Shaafah village, Deir al-Zour, reportedly killed 25 civilians. After Iranian drone allegedly entered Israeli airspace from Syria 10 Feb, Israeli jets carried out retaliatory raid on alleged Iranian drone control site in Syria; govt anti-aircraft missile shot down returning Israeli jet; Israel launched second raid against govt and Iranian targets. Israeli PM Netanyahu 18 Feb warned Israel would “if necessary” act against Iran itself, not just its proxies.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

16 Mar 2018
Russia needs both the Syrian regime and Turkey. So it has to give a little bit to both and it has to ... make them equally angry, if that's what it wants. Rudaw

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
13 Mar 2018
What's happening now is that the Syrian regime is trying to regain control over as large an area as possible. At the same time, other regional conflicts involving Syria are having a greater impact. Dagens Nyheter

Robert Malley

President & CEO
10 Mar 2018
The YPG is an integral part of the PKK command structure. They may be mostly Syrians, though not exclusively, but all are part of the PKK. The New York Times

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
9 Mar 2018
In the end [Moscow] will want a political solution in Syria, and economic reconstruction. For that they will need European input and money and investment. The Christian Science Monitor

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
1 Mar 2018
Turkey has tried to drive wedges into [Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)]  because they see [the group] as very problematic. Al Jazeera

Heiko Wimmen

Project Director, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
26 Feb 2018
It’s fair to say the U.S. policy options in Syria were never good and never easy, and they’ve gotten steadily worse and harder as the war has gone on. Wbur

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria

Latest Updates

Video: Israel, Hizbollah and Iran: Preventing Another War in Syria

Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group's Program Director for the Middle East and North Africa talks about a new phase in Syria’s war that augurs escalation with Israel.

Integrating Syrian Refugees in Istanbul’s “District of Victimhood”

Sultangazi is home to a mix of religious and ethnic groups – as well as 50,000 Syrian refugees. The district received the refugees warmly. But resentment is rising, as public services suffer and opposition forces suspect the ruling party of using refugees to exacerbate social divisions.

Tackling the MENA Region’s Intersecting Conflicts

How can the dizzying changes, intersecting crises and multiplying conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 Arab uprisings be best understood, let alone responded to? This long-form commentary by MENA Program Director Joost Hiltermann and our team steps back for a better look and proposes new approaches.

Also available in العربية

Talking about Syrian Post-War Reconstruction

While announcing an end to the Syrian civil war is grossly premature, it nevertheless has become clear over the past year that the conflict has started to wind down, owing to the military commitments of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, and largely on the Assad regime’s terms.

Originally published in Valdai Club

Also available in العربية

Our People

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups