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.
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.
Islamic State (ISIS) launched one of its deadliest attacks in Homs governorate since Dec 2019, leaving eighteen govt forces killed, while Turkey and Russia enforced March ceasefire in Idlib. ISIS militants 9 April attacked govt military positions in desert town of Al-Sukhna in Homs region formerly held by jihadist group; eighteen govt forces and eleven ISIS militants killed. Pro-govt fighters with Russian air support reportedly attempted to halt militants’ advance after attackers captured parts of town. In north west Idlib province, Turkey and Russia 15 April attempted fourth joint patrol along M4 highway in effort to uphold 5 March ceasefire after three previous patrols since 15 March were fully or partially obstructed by local protesters; Russia and Turkey conducted fifth and sixth joint patrols in area on 25 April and 28 April, respectively. Unclaimed truck bomb attack in northern town of Afrin 28 April killed at least 40 civilians; Turkey same day blamed Kurdish-led People’s Protection Forces (YPG), which 28 April denied carrying out attack. Meanwhile, Turkey continued military reinforcements in Idlib. Syrian authorities maintained or extended measures to slow COVID-19 spread in govt-controlled areas, including stay at home order, daily curfew and suspension of schools, universities and Friday prayers. In north east, first reported COVID-19 case 17 April raised fears of possible wider outbreak in region amid limited medical equipment. Govt 20 April said it intercepted Israeli missiles over Palmyra in Homs; govt 27 April said Israel conducted airstrikes on military airfield near capital Damascus.
Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary.
A tumultuous month in north-eastern Syria has left a tense standoff among the regime, Turkey and the YPG, mediated by Russia and, to some degree, still the U.S. All parties should respect the ceasefire as the regime and YPG negotiate more stable long-term arrangements.
Rebuilding war-torn Syria poses a formidable challenge for European governments, which are unwilling to legitimise the Damascus regime by funding reconstruction. Instead, the EU and its member states could consider bankrolling small projects without regime involvement and testing an approach that trades aid for reforms.
Tens of thousands of foreign men, women and children affiliated with ISIS are detained in northeast Syria. The camps where they are held pose a formidable security and humanitarian challenge to the region. Western governments should, at minimum, accelerate the repatriation of women and children.
Once again, the Islamic State may be poised to recover from defeat in its original bases of Iraq and Syria. It is still possible, however, for the jihadist group’s many foes to nip its regrowth in the bud.
What appears to be an unprecedented government-sanctioned Russian media campaign against Bashar al-Assad may reflect frustration in Moscow over Assad's obstinacy at a time when Syria is a lesser priority.
[...] this is an effort to minimize offending Moscow that reflects the fact that U.N. officials believe that continued cooperation with Russia is key to the future of humanitarian operations in Syria.
As the Syrian economy continues to deteriorate and violence escalates, fewer and fewer families will be able to access even the nominally available public care.
[The Syrian civilian population] think it’s suicidal to move toward the regime, or at best, it’s unknown.
These [Turkish and Russian] patrols are meant to be politically symbolic, demonstrating both countries’ ability to cut through rebel-controlled Idlib and secure the highway.
Getting out [of Idlib] altogether, allowing the refugees to come into Turkey and letting Assad take that space is not an idea that’s going to resonate with Turkish society.
A deadly attack on Turkish forces in Syria has brought Idlib’s crisis to a dangerous crossroads. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Turkey, Syria and Russia experts explain what happened and what’s at stake.
As a humanitarian disaster unfolds in Idlib, the last bastion of Syria’s Islamist rebels, the question is whether accommodation is possible between the militants and their foes. External actors should answer by gauging the insurgents’ ability to maintain calm and their sincerity about aiding civilians.
The Syrian regime’s deliberate but devastating campaign to retake Idlib has picked up in intensity, threatening death and displacement at levels unseen in Syria’s conflict, terrible as it has been to date. Damascus and its Russian backers must conclude an immediate ceasefire with rebel forces.
1,450 ISIS-affiliated European nationals are being held in camps in Syria, where they suffer from squalor and violence. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU member states to take responsibility for their nationals and bring them home – starting with children and women.