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Syria

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

Fighting intensified in north west between rebels and Russian-backed govt forces, in north east fragile ceasefire between Turkey and Kurdish-led forces held as Russia increased its presence there, and Israel launched retaliatory strikes against Syrian and Iranian targets in south. In north west, Russian and govt forces continued offensive in rebel-held parts of Idlib province killing over 50 civilians; govt airstrike on displaced persons’ camp in Qah 20 Nov killed at least fifteen civilians. Fighting between Russian-backed govt forces and rebels in south east Idlib province 30 Nov left almost 100 combatants dead from both sides in most intense fighting since Aug ceasefire agreement. Protests erupted in Idlib 2 Nov over rise in fuel prices and electricity shortages; protesters also demonstrated against ties between region’s self-proclaimed National Salvation Govt and jihadist group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham. In north east, following incursion in Oct, Turkey limited its military operation against Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) and carried out joint patrols with Russian forces in safe zone agreed with Russia in Oct. Russia increased its military presence in north east, 18 Nov claimed to have taken control of former U.S. military base near Sarrin, north east of Aleppo following U.S. withdrawal in Oct. Syrian govt forces exchanged artillery fire with Turkey’s Syrian proxies near Tel Abyad in safe zone and 19 Nov carried out first joint patrol with Russian troops between Tel Tamer and Abu Rasin in Hasakah governorate. Car bombing 26 Nov killed dozens in Turkish-controlled Tel Halaf near Ras al-Ayn; Turkey blamed YPG. In east, U.S. forces 22 Nov carried out first major operation against ISIS in Deir al-Zour province since 7 Oct withdrawal from north east. Israel night of 17-18 Nov struck Iran-backed convoy near Palmyra and Iranian official in Hama; 19 Nov intercepted four rockets suspected Iranian-backed forces launched from Syria into Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. In retaliation, Israel next day struck over twenty Syrian and Iranian targets reportedly killing at least 23.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

8 Oct 2019
L'EI constitue toujours une menace qui pourrait métastaser si les FDS voient leur attention et leurs ressources détournées [...] au profit d'une bataille défensive contre la Turquie. Le Nouvel Obs

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups
7 Oct 2019
[By deciding to withdraw its troops from North East Syria] the United States just threw away the last leverage it had. The New York Times

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
2 Oct 2019
The debate about [whether] US should distance itself from the [Mideast] region and reduce its military footprint is important but somewhat beside the point. The more consequential question is what kind of Middle East the United States will remain engaged in or disengaged from. Twitter

Robert Malley

President & CEO
28 Sep 2019
Even if efforts to create a 'buffer zone' [in Northern Syria] succeed, the underlying source of tension will remain and with it, the potential for a Turkish military response to Ankara's perceived YPG threat. AFP

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
25 Sep 2019
The world apparently has long since tired of the war, and resigned itself to frozen conflict, with a nationwide cease-fire as the best possible scenario. Associated Press

Heiko Wimmen

Project Director, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
1 Sep 2019
This ceasefire [in Idlib] may just be an operational pause for Damascus and Moscow to consolidate their territorial gains and prepare for the next phase of their offensive. Al Jazeera

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups

Latest Updates

Assessing the Fatalities in Turkey’s PKK Conflict

Turkey’s ruling party sees recent battlefield and electoral gains as vindicating its hardline policies toward the PKK. But these same policies fuel the Kurdish grievances that keep the fighting going. Ankara would thus be wise to consider exploring ways of winding down the destructive conflict.

Calling a Halt to Turkey’s Offensive in North-eastern Syria

Turkey’s incursion into north-eastern Syria threatens to reduce a region of relative calm to hotly contested terrain: it could meet determined resistance, cause mass displacement and revive ISIS. Washington should urgently press Ankara to stop the offensive before it advances much further.

Also available in العربية

Are There Alternatives to a Military Victory in Idlib?

Last weekend, the presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Ankara to discuss, among other things, the latest developments in Syria amid Turkish concerns over the consequences of a Syrian government offensive in the last rebel enclave, Idlib. 

Originally published in Valdai

Squaring the Circles in Syria’s North East

The U.S. decision to leave troops in north-eastern Syria has bought the area time but not lasting stability. Washington should press its Kurdish YPG allies to loosen their PKK ties – lest Ankara intervene – and stop obstructing their autonomy talks with Damascus.

Also available in Türkçe, العربية

The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib

The Syrian regime vows to reconquer Idlib, the north-western zone hosting its hardest-core remaining jihadist opposition. But an all-out offensive would be calamitous. Turkey and Russia should recommit to their “de-escalation” deal for Idlib, bolstering it with measures that buy time for a lasting solution.

Also available in العربية

Our People

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups
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Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
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