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CrisisWatch Syria

Unchanged Situation

Country marked 10 years since uprising as Kurdish and Turkish-backed forces clashed in north east, Idlib attacks strained Russia-Turkey ceasefire, and govt forces fought former opposition in south west. In north east, Turkish-backed armed groups and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 16-17 and 19-21 March clashed in Ain Issa countryside, reportedly prompting Turkey to launch airstrike – its first in 17 months in north east – on Saida village 20 March. In Idlib province in north west, March 2020 ceasefire largely continued to hold despite reported Russian airstrikes. Notably, regime forces 5 March launched rocket on Bzapour town, reportedly killing three civilians; Russian airstrike 21 March reportedly targeted Sarmada city and suspected Russian missile attack same day struck Qah city near refugee camp. Turkey 25 March said it had agreed with Russia to “take measures to hold ceasefire” in Idlib province. In Aleppo governorate, suspected Russian missile attacks 5 March reportedly killed four near Jarablus and al-Bab cities. Russian artillery 21 March hit hospital in rebel-held Atareb city west of Aleppo, reportedly killing at least six civilians and wounding 16 others, including 5 health workers. In Daraa province in south west, amid govt efforts to reassert security control, gunmen loyal to former opposition commander known as Abu Tariq Al-Subaihi 16 March ambushed govt troops who sought to capture him; 21 soldiers and unknown number of gunmen killed. In central desert, Russia continued to launch airstrikes against suspected Islamic State (ISIS) targets throughout month, notably killing dozens of militants 6-16 March. In Deir Ez-Zor province, ISIS reportedly killed nine Iran-backed militiamen 12, 21 March in al-Mayadin area. To mark tenth anniversary of 2011 uprising, thousands took to streets in Idlib city 15 March and hundreds reportedly gathered in Daraa city 18 March, chanting anti-regime slogans. UK, France, Germany, Italy and U.S. 15 March issued joint statement renewing commitment to holding regime accountable for its crimes. United Arab Emirates 9 March called for reinstatement of Syria in Arab League. Israel next day reportedly launched missiles on Iran-linked targets in southern outskirts of Damascus.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

14 Mar 2021
La direction du mouvement [HTC en Syrie] s’efforce désormais de régler ces problèmes. La manière dont elle se comporte vis-à-vis des minorités est en train de changer. Le Monde

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
8 Mar 2021
La meilleure des pires options qui se posent aujourd'hui [en Syrie], c'est une impasse prolongée. AFP

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
26 Feb 2021
The [recent] U.S. [air strikes in Syria were] aimed at a relatively insignificant target in an area where Iran's hands are somewhat tied. AFP

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
5 Oct 2020
The people who have been released [from detention camps in Syria] are struggling to reintegrate, and the economic situation outside is already very bad. The Washington Post

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria
4 Sep 2020
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. New Delhi Times

Berkay Mandıracı

Analyst, Turkey
31 Aug 2020
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. Kurdistan24

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria

Latest Updates

The SDF Seeks a Path Toward Durable Stability in North East Syria

A sudden U.S. troop pull-out from north east Syria could prompt a humanitarian crisis, an Islamic State resurgence and renewed conflict between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces, especially its Kurdish component. The U.S. should commit to an eventual, gradual and conditional withdrawal that protects civilians.

U.S. Sanctions on Syria: What Comes Next?

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.

The Fragility of Northern Syria

A full-blown COVID-19 outbreak may trigger a greater human catastrophe in northern Syria, where ISIS activity persists and Idlib’s peace remains ever-fragile. In this excerpt from the Spring Edition of our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to support a stronger ceasefire in Idlib and increase assistance to health and governance structures to keep COVID-19 and ISIS in check.

Silencing the Guns in Syria’s Idlib

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.

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Our People

Sam Heller

Former Adviser, Non-state Armed Groups

Dareen Khalifa

Senior Analyst, Syria