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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

In fifth round of talks in Kazakh capital Astana 4-5 July, Russia, Iran and Turkey failed to cement agreements on four “de-escalation zones”. U.S. President Trump and Russian President Putin at G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany 7-8 July agreed on outlines of ceasefire in south west covering Quneitra and Daraa provinces and parts of Sweida province, which came into effect 9 July; agreement includes regime and rebels ending direct attacks and bans presence of foreign fighters. Another round of UN-led talks in Geneva mid-July ended with no breakthrough. Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and allies in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition made slow progress in retaking Raqqa in north east against stiff resistance from Islamic State (ISIS); broke through Old City walls early July. Govt forces took oil wells from ISIS south west of Raqqa province mid-July. Fighting escalated between YPG and Turkish forces in north west throughout month. In Idlib province in north west, ceasefire held between rebels and pro-regime forces but rising tensions 18-21 July led to worst clashes yet between rival rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham, Islamist faction backed by Turkey, and Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), al-Qaeda-linked alliance dominated by Salafi-jihadist group Fath al-Sham. After HTS surrounded Ahrar al-Sham at Bab al-Hawa crossing on Turkish border, two sides agreed ceasefire 21 July under which Ahrar al-Sham ceded control of crossing. In south east, govt forces and allied Iranian-backed militias launched assault 10 July on Western-backed rebels in eastern Sweida province near Iraqi border, capturing at least seven villages. Negotiations in Cairo between Russia and rebel faction Jaish al-Islam resulted in 22 July partial ceasefire and renewed aid delivery in Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus; govt strikes continued on areas of Ghouta controlled by other rebel factions. Govt forces and Lebanese Shiite Islamist militant group Hizbollah 21 July launched coordinated offensives against Fath al-Sham and ISIS around Arsal in Lebanon and near Fleita in Syria; Hizbollah and Fath al-Sham agreed ceasefire 27 July under which latter’s members and their families will move to rebel-held areas of Idlib province (see Lebanon).

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

1 Aug 2017
In YPG-held areas [in Syria], a lot of times the local officials with major roles on paper, in practice don't actually have a lot of influence. Al Jazeera

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria
26 Jul 2017
Local councils and civil society organizations [in Syria's Idlib] are constantly battling [the jihadist group Hey’at Tahrir al-Sham] and, to a lesser extent, Ahrar al-Sham, over who will provide services. Al-Monitor

Armenak Tokmajyan

Fellow, Syria
8 Jul 2017
There is a tension in the U.S. approach [in Syria], to avoid extended commitments and nation-building on one hand and the need to prevent the possibility of a jihadist resurgence in the future on the other. The New York Times

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria
19 Jun 2017
The strike [by Iran against ISIS in Syria] further complicates an already complex situation. If the US takes measures beyond rhetorical condemnation, tensions could escalate too far too quickly. Al-Monitor

Ali Vaez

Senior Analyst, Iran
21 May 2017
The shift in the Trump administration's approach reflects an assessment that the primary threat posed by surviving ISIS fighters derives from those who came from Europe. Deutsche Welle

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa
27 Apr 2017
There isn’t an easy solution to [the Turkish-U.S. disagreement on Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria], and now Turkey has raised the stakes. TIME

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria

Latest Updates

Hizbollah’s Pyrrhic Victories in Syria

Originally published in esglobal

Also available in Español

The U.S. joins the Turkey-PKK fight in northern Syria

Directly arming one mainly Kurdish faction in Syria makes U.S. partly responsible for the fate of Syria’s Kurds. Given Ankara’s bitter opposition to the group, Washington should push its Kurdish partner to focus on regional autonomy in Syria, not its insurgency in Turkey.

Originally published in Middle East Eye

Terrorism and Counter-terrorism: New Challenges for the European Union

Despite suffering significant blows in Syria and Iraq, jihadist movements across the Middle East, North Africa and Lake Chad regions continue to pose significant challenges. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to prioritise conflict prevention at the heart of their counter-terrorism policy and continue investment in vulnerable states.

Verify, then Verify Again

Six months into research fellowships made possible by Canadian philanthropist and Crisis Group Trustee Frank Giustra, we catch up with three young experts now working with our Europe, Africa and Middle East teams. Here we talk to Armenak Tokmajyan, working on humanitarian dimensions of the Syrian war.

Our People

Noah Bonsey

Senior Analyst, Syria