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.
Clashes in Idlib further strained March ceasefire, while skirmishes allegedly broke out between U.S. forces on one side and govt and Russian troops on another in north east. In north west, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants 3 Aug reportedly fended off govt attack in Latakia province, killing 12 soldiers; four HTS and two other rebel fighters killed. Rebel groups 11 Aug reportedly repelled govt offensive in Jabal al-Zawiya in southern Idlib. Russia 3 Aug reportedly carried out airstrikes against rebel-held parts of Latakia and Idlib provinces, killing three civilians near Binnish town north of Idlib; 18 Aug bombed near camps housing displaced persons in Harbanoush and Sheikh Bahr Nahr areas, Idlib province. IEDs 14 and 17 Aug struck joint Russian-Turkish patrols along M4 highway, and joint patrol 25 Aug came under fire, no casualties reported; Kataib Khattab Al-Shishani, unknown group suspected to be composed of militants from Caucasus, claimed responsibility for 17 Aug attack. In north east, U.S. forces on joint patrol with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 17 Aug returned fire against Syrian regime checkpoint near Tal Al-Zahab, reportedly killing one govt soldier; U.S. forces later same day claimed patrol had come under fire from checkpoint’s vicinity. Intermittent clashes continued between Turkish-backed forces and SDF along fronts dividing “Euphrates Shield” area from Manbij and “Peace Spring” area from the SDF-held north east. Russian military convoy 26 Aug reportedly rammed into U.S. armoured vehicle during altercation near Derik, allegedly injuring four U.S. soldiers. In east, following spate of killings of prominent Arab tribe figures late July, suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants 2 Aug killed prominent sheikh of al-Aqaidat tribe in Deir al-Zour, prompting some Arab tribe members 4 Aug to protests against SDF whom they held responsible, killing two SDF fighters in clashes same day. Also in Deir al-Zour, roadside bomb 18 Aug killed one Russian general. In south west, Israel 2 Aug killed four unidentified militants along fence between Syria and occupied Golan Heights, next day launched air raids on Syrian army installations in Quneitra. U.S. 20 Aug sanctioned six senior Syrian regime officials and leaders of Syrian military units.
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.
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.
As the Syrian economy continues to deteriorate and violence escalates, fewer and fewer families will be able to access even the nominally available public care.
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.