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.
Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Ankara has been drawn ever deeper into the crisis. Its approach will likely hold steady for now. But the choices it makes next matter for the fate of millions of Syrians.
Marking one of most violent periods in years, regime and Russia esca-lated bombardment in north west, Türkiye intensified strikes and ISIS maintained desert insurgency; Israel-Hamas war threatened to spread to Syria.
North west witnessed most intense bombing since March 2020 ceasefire. Suspected Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)-operated suicide drones 5 Oct struck Homs mili-tary academy graduation, killing at least 89 soldiers and civilians and injuring over 270; by striking more than 140km away from Idlib, attack may signal new phase of HTS campaign against regime. In response, regime and Russian forces same day began intensive shelling of Idlib and Aleppo provinces, which during Oct killed at least 50 civilians and displaced almost 70,000. Drone attacks 7 Oct reportedly targeted Russia’s Istamo airbase in Latakia province and Aleppo city 8-18 Oct. Russia 13 Oct increased airstrikes in Idlib and regime forces mid-month intensified shelling; HTS and allied groups retaliated with artillery, snipers, and guided missiles, while suspected HTS-operated drones targeted communities across north and east Hama.
In north east, Türkiye intensified anti-Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) strikes. In response to 1 Oct PKK attack in Turkish capital Ankara (see Türkiye), Turkish FM Hakan Fidan 4 Oct declared all PKK and People’s Protection Units infrastructure “legitimate targets”; subsequent drone strikes targeted water and energy infrastructure and Syrian Democratic Forces targets, killing more than 50 and exacerbating humanitarian crisis.
Islamic State (ISIS) attacked in centre. ISIS stepped up pressure on regime forces in Homs province; following 5-18 Oct probing attacks, ISIS 18 Oct seized and held six regime outposts south of Sukhnah town and Wadi Doubayat gas field.
Amid Israel-Hamas war, tit-for-tat attacks between Iran-backed groups and U.S., Israel could escalate. Following Hamas-Israel war outbreak (see Israel-Palestine), Iranian forces reportedly repositioned around 300 Syrian and Lebanese fighters to Quneitra, underscoring potential for Israel’s war on Gaza to draw in regional actors. Suspected Iran-backed forces in Quneitra and Dara’a 11-29 Oct fired artillery shells at northern Israel, prompting multiple Israeli retaliatory strikes: notably, Israel shelling 25 Oct killed eight Syrian soldiers. In east, U.S. 31 Oct said suspected Iran-backed forces conducted total eleven attacks on its positions since 7 Oct; U.S. 26 Oct launched two airstrikes near Mayadeen city in response.
Turkey is highly unlikely to compromise on troop withdrawal [from northern Syria].
It's important to remember that [Syrian president] Assad's return to the Arab League is a symbolic measure to begin the process of ending his regional isolation.
The U.S. and Europe have made it clear that they do not agree with Arab states normalizing with the Assad regime, but there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it.
The UAE has, since 2021, embarked on a policy of diminishing tensions with other countries in the region, and normalizing with Assad is part of that.
If the UN fails to extend its operation [in Syria] via these [Turkish border] crossings, donor states should bypass the UN and do bilateral assistance themselves.
Whenever the American forces there [in Syria] are attacked, the question arises again: Why are they there?
The League of Arab States welcomed President Bashar al-Assad to its May summit, reinstating Syria’s membership, which it had suspended in 2011. The regime may look to have shrugged off the international opprobrium it earned for its brutality in repressing its opponents. But has it?
The rebels who control north-western Syria are dealing harshly with ISIS cells but have not yet crushed them entirely. The best way to stop jihadists from rebounding is to consolidate the area’s ceasefire. Outside powers can also help by sending more humanitarian aid.
Its self-declared caliphate is gone, but ISIS continues to stage attacks and intimidate the public in much of its former domain. The forces fighting the group need to hinder the militants’ movement between Syria’s regions – and, above all, to avoid debilitating conflicts with one another.
To prevent ISIS from resurging, forces fighting the group should stop it from moving across regions and avoid conflict with one another. This timeline catalogues some of the major ISIS attacks and counter-ISIS operations from 2017 to February 2022.
The UN Security Council is considering renewing an understanding whereby UN agencies transport aid to Idlib, an area held by Syrian rebels. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Richard Gowan, Dareen Khalifa and Ashish Pradhan explain why the arrangement remains essential.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to experts Dareen Khalifa and Jerome Drevon about ISIS in Syria after the death of its leader Abdullah Qardash, the precarious calm that prevails across the country and the evolution of al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in the north west, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Aleppo was devastated by bombing and shelling during the Syrian war. It remains unsafe, with residents subject to shakedowns by the regime’s security forces and various militias. Damascus and its outside backers should curb this predation as a crucial first step toward the city’s recovery.
Turkey is increasingly relying on airpower in its fight against the PKK. New parties have been drawn into the conflict as it spreads to new theatres in Iraq and Syria, which, for now at least, complicates potential efforts to settle things down.
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