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.
Govt continued bombardment of Idlib in north west, Islamic State (ISIS) stepped up attacks in east, while negotiations on fate of north east after U.S. withdrawal remained stalled. In north west, govt continued bombing in southern Idlib province and rebels continued to retaliate against pro-govt forces. In Idlib province, govt shelling 3-4 April killed around 29 civilians; 18 April killed ten, including three children. Jihadist coalition Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham killed at least twelve pro-govt fighters near Aleppo city 21 April. Russia and Turkey 9 April announced start of joint patrols across demilitarised strip around de-escalation zone. Iran, Russia and Turkey held new round of talks in Nursultan, renamed capital of Kazakhstan (formerly Astana) 25-26 April, no significant outcome. In east, ISIS stepped up low-level insurgency: in Raqqa, twin bombing killed at least eight people 9 April; militants 18-19 April launched separate attacks in Homs and Deir al-Zour provinces, killing at least 35 pro-govt fighters; ISIS killed around 60 local SDF fighters in attacks throughout April. In north east, Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) sought to strengthen control while U.S. retained presence on ground. U.S. remained vague on timing and extent of troop withdrawal. U.S. Special Envoy James Jeffrey visited region mid-April to advance negotiations between U.S. and Turkey on one hand and YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on other toward creation of safe zone along Turkish border in which local Arab and Kurdish forces would replace YPG. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 3 April warned of “devastating” results if Turkey took unilateral action against SDF. Facing fuel shortages, govt 15 April reduced petrol rations; PM Imad Khamis held U.S. and Egypt responsible for blocking passage of Iranian oil tankers through Suez Canal. Israel continued attacks on pro-govt infrastructure: Syrian state media 13 April reported airstrikes and damage to buildings in Hama governorate.
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.
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.
President Donald Trump has ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from north-east Syria. This risks chaos and drives home the urgent need for a deal that restores Syrian state sovereignty to its north east, assuages Turkish security concerns and allows for some degree of Kurdish self-rule.
Much of north-eastern Syria has been safe during the civil war. But in the event of U.S. military withdrawal, a mad scramble for control could be unleashed. Washington and Moscow should help their respective allies in Syria reach a decentralisation deal for the area.
Numerous signs point to an imminent Syrian regime offensive to recapture Idlib, the largest remaining rebel-held area. To ward off another humanitarian calamity, Russia, Iran and Turkey should immediately convene talks to extend the truce and seek other ways of removing Idlib’s jihadist hard core.
Idlib is a bargaining chip at this point and it’s extremely difficult to anticipate what happens next.
Too much of the public discussion around repatriating Western citizens, male or female, hinges on an assumption that letting them come home is equivalent to leniency or forgiveness.
Since February 2018, the Israeli-Iranian conflict visibly is no longer ‘cold'.
President Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from Syria, but apparently spontaneously, without prior planning or coordination inside the U.S. government or with Turkey.
[U.S. withdrawal from Syria] basically means you throw the Kurds under the bus. The only thing the Kurds can do is throw themselves into the arms of the regime.
A head-on attack against [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] now or later would likely destabilize northwest [Syria], prompt a bloody and maybe inconclusive fight, and potentially set off retaliatory attacks inside Turkey. This is why the Turks are pushing so hard for something that approximates the status quo.
Tabloid sensationalism about Shamima Begum flattens important debates about how much agency these women have.
Originally published in The Guardian
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
Crisis Group’s third update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on economic reforms in Libya, preserving the fragile quiet in Syria’s Idlib province, addressing the plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, supporting Colombia's uneasy peace process and averting violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
The Sochi agreement between Russia and Turkey succeeded in averting a Syrian regime offensive in Idlib. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 annual early-warning update for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to continue to provide diplomatic support for Turkey and engage directly with Russia to prevent an attack that would likely have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.