A Turkish-Russian agreement last month forestalled a potentially disastrous Syrian military attack on the country’s northwestern Idlib governorate, the Syrian opposition’s last major stronghold. Yet the agreement also required Turkey to “remove” the Syrian jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other hardliners from much of the northwest, a possible first step toward separating them from the rest of the opposition. So far, results are reportedly mixed. Whether the group continues to comply, and how it resolves its own dual transnational-local identity, could be a matter of life or death for the northwest’s nearly three million residents.

A recent video release from Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, helps show how it has integrated into Syria’s opposition, and how it translates its ideological worldview into the language of Syria’s war.…  Seguir leyendo »

ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 6: Syrian civil defense team member carries a wounded girl after warcrafts belonging to Russian army carried out airstrikes over Urum al-Kubra region in Aleppo, Syria on November 6, 2016. (Photo by Beha el Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Around 6:30 AM on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, before most children had left for school, Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter jets launched missiles at the northern opposition-held town of Khan Shaykhun. Witnesses recalled a strange odor spreading after the missiles struck; people were choking and foaming at the mouth, and one resident later described how “they were suffocating while their lungs collapsed.” The airstrike contained a mixture of nerve agent–filled bombs and conventional munitions, according to James Le Mesurier, who founded the Syria Civil Defence (commonly known as the White Helmets). The White Helmets are Syrian first responders, and they are often the only rescue workers on the scene after airstrikes.…  Seguir leyendo »

A flag depicting Abdullah Ocalan, founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, at a militia fighter’s funeral in Kobani, Syria.CreditCreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times

The United States announced last month that it intends to keep troops in Syria to support Kurdish-led fighters there until the Islamic State has been completely routed and the area stabilized. Although this long-term commitment is critical, real stability and security can be ensured only by providing political recognition and practical support to the Kurdish administration governing northeastern Syria.

The United States has been backing the Kurds in Syria but has insisted on keeping the relationship strictly military. Since the first American weapons drop to Kurdish fighters besieged by the Islamic State in the Syrian town of Kobani late in 2014, Washington has focused on defeating the Islamic State and avoided statements or actions that could imply support for Kurdish autonomy or the Kurdish-led federation in Syria.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Syrian rebel fighter training for combat in Idlib Province.CreditCreditAaref Watad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Trump administration has made clear that its top priority in the Middle East is to thwart Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions. So why is it so reluctant to lift a finger against Tehran’s most audacious gambit in Syria?

That gambit is the reconquest, by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian and Russian allies, of Idlib Province, the last major rebel holdout in western Syria and home to about three million people. A humanitarian catastrophe is expected to follow, entailing mass casualties and another tidal wave of refugees.

By now, the strategic consequences should also be obvious. Iran will have succeeded in consolidating a Shiite crescent stretching from Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.…  Seguir leyendo »

Par sentiment de défi, mais aussi pour rappeler ce pourquoi la Syrie saigne depuis 2011, ils sont descendus par milliers à Saraqeb, à Idlib ou à Maarat Al-Nouman. Les premières villes de cette vaste zone à s’être libérées en 2012 sont redevenues, le temps du vendredi 31 août, les places révolutionnaires appelant à la chute du régime. L’avenir, pourtant, s’annonce sombre et semblait se décider ailleurs. Dimanche 9 septembre, les avions russes leur répondaient en bombardant la place.

Alors que la « communauté internationale » scrutait les réactions de Téhéran, de Moscou, de Washington, de New York, glosait sur le sens à donner aux actions de M.…  Seguir leyendo »

Preparing for the worst in a makeshift shelter in an underground cave in Idlib, Syria, on Sept. 3CreditCreditKhalil Ashawi/Reuters

The first thing that struck me when I saw Idlib, the rebel-held province in northwestern Syria, in April last year was how green the country was. Olive and cherry trees lined the pockmarked roads leading from the Turkish border down to the province’s towns. Smoke rose in the distance in the aftermath of an airstrike or an exploding shell, and the buildings in most towns were scarred by blows from the sky.

I had traveled to Idlib to report on the chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which killed over 80 people. I remember watching Abdulhamid al-Yousef, a father of two, hold his son and daughter before their burial; they were poisoned by the very air they breathed.…  Seguir leyendo »

Journalists Paul Conroy and Marie Colvin in Libya; Colvin was killed in Syria on February 22, 2012

On February 22, 2012, when the British photojournalist Paul Conroy survived the artillery barrage that killed Marie Colvin, he was rushed to a place of greater danger. Bashar al-Assad’s war of repression has killed civilians indiscriminately, but its targeting of medical facilities has been systematic. Hospitals are the most endangered spaces in opposition-held areas. Of the 492 medical facilities destroyed in the war, Physicians for Human Rights attributes the destruction of 446 to Assad and his allies. The UN Commission of Inquiry has charged the regime and its allies with having “systematically targeted medical facilities… and intentionally attacking medical personnel.” With a pierced abdomen and a fist-sized hole in his thigh, Conroy was carried to hospital under a hail of mortar fire.…  Seguir leyendo »

Le marché déserté de la ville de Saraqib, dans la province d’Idlib, après un raid aérien, le 29 janvier. Photo Omar Haj Kadour. AFP

A Idlib, ce n’est pas le dernier acte de la crise syrienne qui est sur le point de se jouer mais le dernier acte du premier volet seulement de cette tragédie. Telle que l’a préfigurée la «libération» d’Alep, sur le modèle de celle de Mossoul, les «victoires», Raqqa d’abord, la Ghouta et Deraa ensuite, se sont effectivement enchaînées. Et certains observateurs pressés veulent y lire la «fin» de la crise syrienne. Idlib était resté en suspens, en partie protégée par la proximité de la Turquie. Enfermée aux yeux des Occidentaux entre les amalgames de la pensée sectaire, de droite comme de gauche («ils sont trop musulmans pour être honnêtes»), et ceux de la paresse intellectuelle «mélenchoniste» (la révolution syrienne n’est «qu’une guerre pour les ressources»), l’opposition syrienne s’est trouvée à des degrés divers désavouée par la planète entière.…  Seguir leyendo »

Syrian fighters attend a mock battle in anticipation of an attack by the regime on Idlib province and the surrounding countryside, at a camp in the northern Idlib province on Aug. 14. (Omar Haj kadour/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Syrian tragedy lurches toward a bloody final showdown in Idlib province, the Trump administration is struggling to check Russia and the Assad regime from an assault there that U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warns would be a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

The administration’s efforts are so late in coming, and so limited, it’s hard to muster much hope they can reverse seven years of American failure. But at least the administration has stopped the dithering and indecision of the past 18 months and signaled that the United States has enduring interests in Syria, beyond killing Islamic State terrorists — and that it isn’t planning to withdraw its Special Operations forces from northeastern Syria anytime soon.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tras una conversión sospechosamente repentina, el presidente ruso Vladimir Putin ahora afirma que está preocupado por el destino de los millones de refugiados que huyeron de la matanza en Siria. En una reunión reciente con la canciller alemana Angela Merkel, Putin expresó su esperanza de que la Unión Europea ayude a reconstruir Siria para que sus desplazados puedan iniciar el regreso. Y en las últimas semanas, diplomáticos rusos han estado promoviendo el mismo mensaje en las capitales europeas.

Es verdad que ahora que el régimen de Bashar al‑Assad recuperó la mayor parte del territorio del país, la guerra civil en Siria muestra signos claros de estar llegando a su fin.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Syrian flag flying in a rubble strewn street during a flag raising ceremony at the entrance of the Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus in May, after the regime seized the area earlier in the week from the Islamic State.CreditCreditLouai Beshara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At their summit in Helsinki, Finland, in July, President Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia reportedly agreed to end the Syrian war and to move Iranian forces away from the Syria-Israel border. President Trump has also indicated that he is willing to accept President Bashar al-Assad’s remaining in office and is prepared to withdraw American forces from Syria. This is a start. But more is needed to end the violence in Syria.

Beginning in 2011, Western and Middle Eastern powers rallied around the slogan “Assad must go.” This singular focus on the fate of Syria’s president hardened positions on all sides and made it much more difficult to explore other options.…  Seguir leyendo »

Crisis Group’s Middle East & North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann participated in the 2018 Körber Policy Game, designed to explore possible outcomes in the event of a crisis between Turkey and the West in Syria. While the exercise underscored many of the Syrian conflict’s complexities, it also revealed that a strong desire by stakeholders to find common ground can help overcome them.

If it were up to regional experts advising their governments, things in the Middle East needn’t look so bad: the Syrian conflict could be contained; a war between Israel and Iran could be avoided, and so, too – and more importantly – a war between Russia and the United States; and Turkey would return to providing regional stability, anchored firmly in the West through its NATO membership.…  Seguir leyendo »

La province d’Idlib, au nord-ouest de la Syrie, dernière grande enclave aux mains des forces rebelles, a jusqu’à présent servi de soupape de sécurité. Alors que les autres enclaves antigouvernementales tombaient les unes après les autres, les survivants n’ont eu d’autre choix que d’être livrés à leur sort à Idlib ou bien de vivre dans des zones contrôlées par le gouvernement, où ils seraient constamment exposés au risque d’être détenus, torturés et exécutés. Pour des raisons évidentes, beaucoup ont choisi Idlib. Actuellement, environ la moitié des 2,3 millions de personnes y vivant sont des personnes déplacées, venant d’autres régions de Syrie.…  Seguir leyendo »

Syrian pro-regime forces enter Yarmouk. Photo: Getty Images.

The ISIS attack on Sweida in southern Syria last week, where coordinated suicide bombings and raids left more than 200 people dead, took many by surprise. Many had felt that ISIS was all but defeated in Iraq and Syria, and now concern is growing that it remains capable of conducting terrorist attacks.

But the situation in Sweida says more about the Syrian regime than about ISIS, and about how far the regime is willing to go to pursue its goals at the expense of civilian lives.

The ongoing military campaign has been presented by Russia and the Syrian regime as targeting ISIS and other terrorists.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Syrian national flag flies amid war damage in the city of Daraa’s al-Balad district on July 12, 2018. (Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images)

The war in Syria may be drawing nearer to a close. Syrian regime forces have advanced through rebel territory, most recently taking Quneitra province in the southwest. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime appears, according to much commentary, to be heading toward victory. The war is seven years old. Hundreds of thousands are dead, millions displaced. How has this bloody war lasted so long? How has Assad survived several moments, especially early on, in which his rule appeared doomed? And what does this mean for other civil conflicts?

My research, in a recent paper, suggests a grim answer. One key to the war’s length and Assad’s survival is that the regime has long pursued a sectarian strategy, putting key posts in the hands of certain members of a small religious minority.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Syrian woman walks with a boy past a banner showing Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shaking hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after arriving in a convoy carrying displaced people into government-controlled territory at Abu al-Zuhur checkpoint in the western countryside of Idlib province, on June 1, 2018. (Photo by George OURFALIAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The endgame of the war in Syria is likely to come down to the northwestern province of Idlib, on the Turkish border, where some 2.3 million people are now trapped. As Russian-Syrian forces now finish retaking the smaller southwestern province of Daraa, Idlib will be the last significant enclave in anti-government hands. If Russian-Syrian forces resume pummeling the city and surrounding area from the air, its civilians could face the horrible choice of bunkering in place or desperately trying to cross the Turkish border, which has been effectively closed since 2015.

Recently, however, there is some evidence that Russia might be willing to act more constructively.…  Seguir leyendo »

Syrian refugee children stand in front of their home at Al Zaatari refugee camp, in the Jordanian city of Mafraq near the border with Syria, in February. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

Over the past month, fighting in southern Syria has displaced more than 300,000 people — the most at any one time in Syria’s nearly seven-year civil war. More than 60,000 of these Syrians fled south, hoping to find safety in Jordan. But Jordan’s government closed the border and refused to let them in, claiming the country has already done enough to help Syrian refugees.

Many Jordanians reacted angrily to the government’s position — #OpenTheBorders became a top trending Twitter hashtag in the country as people called the decision shameful and vowed to share their bread with the refugees. Some Jordanians matched words with actions, organizing private relief efforts to help those trapped on the border.…  Seguir leyendo »

Le 19 juin, les forces du régime de Bachar Al-Assad ont brisé le cessez-le-feu en vigueur dans la province de Deraa pour reprendre le contrôle des territoires encore rebelles, dans le sud de la Syrie.

Plus que le terrible fracas des raids aériens de l’allié russe, ce qui interpelle est le silence assourdissant dans lequel se fait le retour des crimes et des drames qui, depuis sept ans, détruisent le pays : villes et hôpitaux bombardés, civils tués, cortèges de réfugiés, expropriations en masse des exilés, recomposition ethnique et confessionnelle (« chiitisation ») du pays.

En guise de réaction de la communauté internationale, les Nations unies (ONU) ont, par prudence, suspendu leurs convois humanitaires depuis la Jordanie et le secrétaire général Antonio Guterres, « profondément alarmé », a appelé « toutes les parties » au respect du droit international et de leurs engagements.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man carries a child rescued from rubble after Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes in the rebel-held town of Nawa, Syria, on June 26. (Ahmad al-Msalam/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States promised it would take “firm and appropriate measures” to protect the cease-fire in southern Syria. However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with the Russians and Iranians, are advancing toward the southern part of the country. Assad’s army has been pounding the southern region with airstrikes. Regime forces are on track to repeat the same human catastrophes that happened in Aleppo last year and Eastern Ghouta this March. Southern Syria is the liberated zone; the besieged city of Daraa is the cradle of Syrian revolution, and it hasn’t fallen yet. But 1 million Syrians, living for now in relative security outside the control of the regime known for its vengeance, are feeling nervous.…  Seguir leyendo »