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.
Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List editions that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2020. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Spring Edition of the Watch List 2020 includes entries on Côte d’Ivoire, Myanmar, northern Syria, Yemen and Venezuela.
Cross-line assaults between jihadist and govt forces early June continued to strain Idlib ceasefire, while economic crisis sparked protests in south and intra-Kurdish negotiation in north east yielded preliminary agreement. In Idlib, fighting between al-Qaeda linked group Hurras al-Din and govt positions in Sahl Al Ghab area 8 June left 19 govt soldiers and 22 militants dead. Russian fighter jets next day delivered the first confirmed airstrikes on Idlib since Russia-Turkey ceasefire was agreed in March; Turkey next day condemned govt’s alleged increasing provocations; Turkish President Erdoğan and Russian President Putin 10 June discussed tensions in Syria. Meanwhile, Russia and Turkey 16 June conducted longest patrol (40km) to date along M4 highway, fourth during June, bringing total patrols to 17 since March. In north east, Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdish National Council (KNC), umbrella group of Syrian Kurdish opposition parties, 16 June announced initial agreement aimed at “Kurdish unity”, agreeing that 2014 Dohuk Agreement on governance and defence should form basis for ongoing dialogue. Islamic State (ISIS) detainees in provincial capital Hassakeh 29 June staged riot against People's Protection Units (YPG) guards, demanding fair trial and family visits. Amid worsening economic crisis, hundreds of protesters 7-15 June in Sweida in south west demonstrated against soaring food prices and govt corruption; clashes 15 June erupted between pro-govt protesters and anti-govt demonstrators before security forces arrested at least eight. President Assad 11 June dismissed PM Khamis, reportedly in bid to placate protesters. Moscow 30 June announced 1 July videoconference on Astana settlement with Turkey and Iran. Israel reportedly launched numerous airstrikes on suspected Iranian and Iran-linked targets: 4 June in centre, reportedly killing ninepeople; 23-24 June in south, east and centre killing two govt soldiers; 27-28 June near border with Iraq reportedly killing fifteen members of pro-Iranian militias. U.S. govt 17 June rolled out new sanctions against individuals and organisations under Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, including President Assad, Iranian militia, and division of Syrian army. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator 29 June asked UN Security Council to extend authorisation to deliver cross-border aid through Turkey ahead of 10 July expiration.
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.
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.
[The Syrian civilian population] think it’s suicidal to move toward the regime, or at best, it’s unknown.
These [Turkish and Russian] patrols are meant to be politically symbolic, demonstrating both countries’ ability to cut through rebel-controlled Idlib and secure the highway.
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.