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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

Govt forces backed by Russian airstrikes continued to take ground from rebels in Idlib province in north west, while U.S. and Turkish forces conducted first joint patrols in safe zone along Turkish border in north east. Russia failed to respect ceasefire in Idlib which it declared 31 Aug. Notably, Russian airstrikes 10 Sept hit town of Kabaneh killing one civilian. Regime forces 24 Sept advanced into Khan Shekhoun in Idlib; fighting left four regime fighters and two militants dead. Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Turkish capital Ankara 15 Sept signed joint communiqué saying they would establish constitutional committee in Geneva under UN auspices comprising members from govt, opposition and civil society to draft new constitution. Parties expressed commitment to uphold Sept 2018 Sochi agreement aimed at de-escalating conflict in Idlib. Russia and China 19 Sept vetoed UN Security Council resolution calling for ceasefire in Idlib; Russia vetoed because resolution lacked exemption for military operations against UN-designated terrorist groups. In north east, U.S. and Turkish troops 8 and 24 Sept conducted joint patrols in safe zone. Turkish President Erdoğan continued to threaten Turkish military action in north east if U.S. does not ensure creation of safe zone. At UN General Assembly, govt 28 Sept called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. and Turkish troops; said it had right to carry out countermeasures if demand refused. In east, suspected Israeli airstrikes 9 Sept killed at least eighteen Iranian and pro-Iranian fighters near Iraqi border; in Salihiya, near Deir al-Zour city regime forces 20 Sept fired on protesters calling for removal from area of Iran-backed militias, killing two. Opposition Syrian Democratic Forces 13 Sept closed crossing points between areas under its control and govt-held areas to crack down on smugglers. Govt and Iraq 30 Sept reopened al-Qaim border crossing after several years. U.S. 10 Sept designated Al-Qaeda affiliate Hurras al-Din as terrorist group, offering $5mn reward for information on group’s leaders.

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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

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

‘Jihadi bride’ doesn’t fit: we need a new language for female militants

Tabloid sensationalism about Shamima Begum flattens important debates about how much agency these women have.

Originally published in The Guardian

Lessons from the Syrian State’s Return to the South

Russian mediation helped reduce bloodshed during the Assad regime’s reconquest of southern Syria. But for similar arrangements to work in remaining rebel strongholds, better security guarantees by outside powers are needed to prevent regime reprisals, improve aid flows and, down the road, facilitate refugee return.

Also available in العربية

The West Should Let Islamic State Recruits Come Back Home

It’s easy to see why Britons are hostile to a teenage girl who went to Syria. But barring the door would feed the next round of jihadist recruiting.

Originally published in Bloomberg

Report / Europe & Central Asia

Mitigating Risks for Syrian Refugee Youth in Turkey’s Şanlıurfa

Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, half of whom are under eighteen. Despite European aid, tensions are rising as the country strains to accommodate the influx. The answer is smarter integration policies aimed particularly at meeting the needs of vulnerable youth.

Also available in Türkçe

Our People

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria