Syria Update

30 October to November 05, 2019

Image caption: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad conducts a wide-ranging television interview on 31 October. Image courtesy of SANA.

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The Syria Update is divided into two sections. The first section provides an in-depth analysis of key issues and dynamics related to wartime and post-conflict Syria. The second section provides a comprehensive whole of Syria review, detailing events and incidents, and analysis of their respective significance.

Al-Assad defiant in major television interview

In Depth Analysis

On October 31, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad conducted a wide-ranging interview with Syrian television reporters — the first such interview given by Al-Assad since June 2018. Much of the Western media reportage concerning the interview has focused on Al-Assad’s statements regarding northeast Syria, in particular his remarks that U.S. President Donald Trump is the “best American president” due to his “complete transparency” — a reference to Trump’s announced ambition to expropriate northeast Syria’s oil fields. However, inside Syria the interview carries far greater significance; the conversation between the Syrian president and the television reporters lasted more than one and a half hours, was remarkably candid, and touched on nearly all of the most pressing long-term intentions of the Government of Syria. Indeed, Al-Assad’s statements should be seen as an articulation of the military, political, and economic stances of the Syrian state itself; it is thus important to examine these remarks in detail. The interview addressed four main points: northeast Syria, the Syrian Constitutional Committee, the dire economic conditions in the country, and the widening scope of anti-corruption measures.

Northeast Syria

The interview addressed the issue of northeast Syria both in terms of military control and in terms of the ongoing Russian-mediated negotiations to forge a workable amalgamation of the Self Administration and the Syrian state. Regarding the military status of northeast Syria, Al-Assad rebuffed the interviewer’s suggestion that the 22 October memorandum of understanding between Russia and Turkey legitimizes Turkey’s Peace Spring military operations. He stated that “the agreement is a temporary one, not permanent,” likening the agreement to previous de-escalation area agreements, which have been implemented throughout the conflict to circumscribe active hostilities. Al-Assad stated: “In the short term, it is a good agreement” that “limits the damage [of a Turkish incursion] and paves the way for the liberation of this area in the future, or the immediate future, as we hope.” Al-Assad also addressed the continuing presence of U.S. forces in eastern Syria, where they are deployed with the overt purpose of denying the Government of Syria access to the country’s most productive oil and gas fields. On this point, Al-Assad acknowledged that Syria could not militarily contest the presence of U.S. forces, and hinted at the possibility of an eventual “popular resistance against the occupier” akin to efforts that drove U.S. forces to withdraw from Lebanon (during the Lebanese Civil War) and Iraq.

Al-Assad also spoke at length concerning the “facts on the ground” that would delay the administrative reintegration of Self-Administration areas with Damascus. On this issue, Al-Assad addressed three crucial points: the Government of Syria’s limited capacity to actually administer northeast Syria, the unlikelihood of disarming or disbanding the SDF, and the difficulty of reintegrating Kurdish communities that view Damascus with reservation, if not outright hostility. In a candid expression of his government’s limited capacity to subsume northeast Syria, Al-Assad explicitly linked the restoration of Government of Syria military control in this area to the government’s highly circumscribed administrative capacity. “The Syrian Army cannot be deployed only to carry out purely security or military acts,” Al-Assad said. “The deployment of the Syrian Army is an expression of the presence of the Syrian state, which means the presence of all the services that should be provided by the state. … This should take place gradually.” In terms of the “obstacles” that are likely to impede the Government’s restored control, Al-Assad pointed chiefly to the SDF, stating that “we do not expect them to hand over their weapons immediately.” Addressing a question concerning “the problem with the Kurds” and their integration within Syria as a whole, Al-Assad superficially acknowledged the legitimate grievances of Kurdish communities, and observed (correctly) that many Kurds “accuse the Syrian state … of being chauvinistic.” However, Al-Assad clearly stated that “separatist propositions” — not Kurdish communities as such — are the obstacle to reintegration. Here, it is highly noteworthy that Al-Assad identified Self Administration educational curricula, specifically Kurdish-language instruction, as a standing challenge to post-conflict détente among various Syrian constituencies. He noted that the ministries of Education, Defense, and Interior are currently studying the issue and will release a plan containing measures “to assimilate these people within the Syrian state … in the next few days.”

Constitutional Committee

Amid cautious optimism — buoyed by the efforts of UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen — the Syrian Constitutional Committee convened its first session in Geneva on 30 October. In a provocative denunciation of this undertaking, Al-Assad abnegated the Geneva process, repudiated the possibility of UN-supervised elections in Syria, and disavowed concessions on the part of the Government of Syria altogether. Striking a defiant tone, Al-Assad stated that “everything that is happening has its frame of reference as Sochi and is a continuation of it. There is no Geneva, it is not part of this process.” (For further assessment of the Constitutional Committee, see Point No. 2 below.)

Economy

In the course of the interview, Al-Assad was also pressed to explain the “deterioration in the living conditions of Syrian families” that has persisted despite military conditions progressively becoming more favorable to the Government of Syria and its forces. In response, Al-Assad listed several factors that have impeded Syria’s “development and economic cycle”: the loss of revenues from domestic tourism and exports, most notably from oil fields and cereal production in northern Syria; sanctions that have forced the state to procure strategic goods such as fuel “in a roundabout way in order to circumvent the sanctions”; slow, if not entirely “intangible” progress in rehabilitating vital service and industrial infrastructure; and the deep instability of the Syrian lira, which has been exacerbated by sanctions, lost export revenues, and “the speculation game” taking place in foreign currency markets. Finally, Al-Assad acknowledged that, faced with declining revenues and what amounts to a ‘guns or butter’ dilemma concerning the need to procure arms or stabilize the Syrian lira, the state has opted for the former. To that end, Al-Assad stated that: “Our priorities have been focused on arms and ammunition and squeezing what we can in order to provide the necessary weapons.” Finally, it is also important to note what the interview lacked: acknowledgment of the increasing centrality of Russian and Iranian investments in various sectors of the Syrian economy.

Corruption

Finally, Al-Assad acknowledged that the Syrian state has embarked on a high-level initiative to crack down on corruption, but denied that the efforts are new or amount to extortion targeting wealthy businessmen. Al-Assad stated that the push for “accountability” began more than three years ago with the jailing of “high-ranking officers” in the military establishment; the effort simply did not come to light until recent months, he said, when it received attention due to the targeting of individuals in “the spotlight of society” (i.e. Rami Makhlouf and other prominent Syrian businessmen). Al-Assad rejected the interviewer’s characterization that the campaign constitutes a “Ritz Carlton Syria” scenario — a reference to the detention and apparent extortion of the Saudi business elite, reportedly at the orders of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. Defending the procedural legality of the Syrian state’s crackdown, Al-Assad pointed to the 28 September meeting of elite businessmen with the Syrian Central Bank and Damascus Chamber of Commerce in a desperate bid to stabilize the Syrian lira (Syria Update 25 September 1 October). On this point, Al-Assad made the fairly incredulous, though superficially accurate, claim that the businessmen “were asked to help state institutions, particularly the Central Bank, and they did so.” Although the businessmen did deposit dollars in exchange for Syria lira, they had not made “donations to the state,” Al-Assad said.

Image caption: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad conducts a wide-ranging television interview on 31 October. Image courtesy of SANA.

Why does it matter?

In many respects, Al-Assad used this latest interview to repeat familiar tropes: he denounced foreign intervention in Syria, accused armed opposition groups of serving as foreign proxies, and framed the entire Syria conflict as a protracted battle against terrorism. He refused to characterize the conflict as a civil war, thus reiterating the framing that domestic opposition combatants are, in effect, illegitimate agents of foreign powers. Such tropes are not mere rhetoric, and Al-Assad’s speech should be seen as an indication of the Government of Syria’s political stance and long-term inclinations. To that end, the interview struck a blow against the Self Administration; although Al-Assad painted a realistic picture of his Government’s inability to forcibly recover territory in northeast Syria — at least for the time being — he nonetheless reiterated that concessions to the Self Administration will be difficult to achieve, even in terms of school curricula. Given the centrality of the education sector to donor-supported programming, Al-Assad’s remark that he hopes to “assimilate all [students] within the national system” is particularly concerning. Likewise, his unyielding position vis-a-vis the Syrian Constitutional Committee bespeaks the validity of concerns over the nascent constitutional reform process, and his attempt to decouple its work from future Syrian elections is particularly notable.

More fundamentally, the frank nature of Al-Assad’s responses suggests that the Government of Syria is now sufficiently confident to recognize, at least superficially, its own administrative failures and the bleak day-to-day realities confronting ordinary Syrians. In this sense, Al-Assad’s remarks concerning economic hardship and the ineptitude and corruption that pervade Syria’s bureaucratic apparatus are significant admissions, as are his statements acknowledging Kurdish grievances. However, it is important that Al-Assad’s frankness in these respects be understood not as a prelude to capitulation, but as an indicator that the Government of Syria is increasingly confident that, in the long term, it will have the capacity to weather these challenges without making substantive concessions to its domestic political challengers.

Whole of Syria Review

1. Intensifying clashes on northern Lattakia frontlines signal potential for ‘land swap’

Kabani, northern Lattakia Governorate: On 1 November, local and media sources reported that intense clashes and shelling had resumed on the frontlines between armed opposition groups and Government of Syria forces in northern Lattakia Governorate. Although opposition forces captured several important positions, local sources indicated that Government forces and Iranian militias launched a counter-offensive that reversed the advances, albeit with heavy losses. Indeed, in a further indication that military operations in these areas are intensifying, approximately 20 Government of Syria combatants were reportedly killed on Kabani frontlines in three days of clashes. Furthermore, as of 4 November, media sources reported that the governments of Syria and Russia had resumed heavy aerial and ground attacks on southern rural Idleb as well as northern rural Lattakia.

Analysis: The intensification of clashes and the resumption of military operations in strategic northwest Syria communities are worrying developments in their own right; however, there are indicators that a wider military offensive by the Government of Syria is possible in the near term. Cooperation between Russia and Turkey to establish respective zones of influence in northeast Syria may be an important precursor to a northwest Syria offensive; reference to previous ‘land swap’ frameworks implemented by the two powers is thus instructive. For example, in 2016, Turkey withdrew support to armed opposition groups in western Aleppo; in return, the Governments of Syria and Russia provided military support for Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation. Likewise, in early 2018, Russia withdrew its military police from Afrin, thus giving a green light to Turkey to launch the operation Olive Branch offensive; in exchange, Turkey cut off its political and financial support to armed factions in Eastern Ghouta, which the Government of Syria recaptured following a siege launched in March 2018. It is distinctly possible that Turkey, now in secure control of a large swathe of northeast Syria, will acquiesce to a renewed military offensive in Idleb, where it exercises nominal authority to implement the Sochi de-escalation zone agreement. Were the Government of Syria, supported by Russia, to undertake such an offensive, its chief priority would be the recapture of the M4 and M5 highways, the primary commercial thoroughfares linking Aleppo city to coastal and central Syria respectively. To that end, the Government of Syria is unlikely to waver in its ambition to restore access to the M4 and M5, which it has consistently framed as its chief strategic priority in northwest Syria. In a television interview on 31 October, Al-Assad was asked whether “zero hour” for the northwest offensive had arrived; in response, the president said that “in the near future we must give room to the political process in its various forms. If it does not yield results then this is an enemy and you go to war against it; there is no other choice.”

2. Constitutional Committee convenes amid harsh criticism levelled by Al-Assad

Geneva: On October 31, one day after the opening session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad made several extremely notable statements regarding the constitutional reform process in a televised interview with Syrian broadcasters (see In-Depth Analysis section above). In the most noteworthy statement, when asked about the possibility of holding parliamentary and presidential elections under UN supervision, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254, Al-Assad stated that if the UN “believes that Resolution 2254 gives the authority to any party, international or otherwise, to supervise the elections, this means that they are returning to the era of the mandate … That would only be in their dreams.” Furthermore, Al-Assad called into question the legitimacy of the opposition list, calling its members “agents … appointed by Turkey.” Finally, Al-Assad categorically denied that the Government of Syria had made “any real concessions” with respect to the constitutional reform process.

Analysis: Al-Assad’s remarks indicate the Government of Syria’s readiness to play an obstructionist role in the constitutional reform process, and they raise crucial questions regarding the Government’s commitment to the process’s outcomes. To date, there has been considerable debate over the future implementation of Resolution 2254, specifically whether internationally supervised elections would follow the adoption of a new Syrian constitution. Al-Assad’s remarks underscore the Government of Syria’s public stand against internationally monitored elections and, consequently, the full implementation of Resolution 2254 as it has been interpreted by most in the international community. Criticisms of the Constitutional Committee and the legitimacy of its opposition-list members have been standard fare from Damascus; more worrying are Al-Assad’s statements forswearing any ‘real’ concessions whatsoever. In effect, these remarks confirm the Government of Syria’s willingness to push for the approval of the Syrian constitution as it currently stands, with no serious amendments (see: Syrian Constitutional Committee: Background Note). It is important that Al-Assad’s statements be taken seriously; however, that does not mean they should be taken entirely literally. The Government of Syria is deeply invested in the ultimate success of the constitutional reform process as a means of burnishing its legitimacy, shedding its pariah status, achieving domestic political accord, and paving the way to eventual reconstruction. To this end, on the sidelines of the committee’s first session in Geneva, Government of Syria bloc co-chair Ahmad Kuzbari reportedly suggested that the committee’s next meeting be convened in Damascus. Although there are credible doubts over the feasibility of convening a session inside Syria, should the Government of Syria offer the necessary safety guarantees, convening in Damascus would signal that — despite the harsh rhetoric — some modest concessions from the Government are possible.

3. VBIEDs in Afrin and Tell Abiad signal blowback in Turkish-held areas

Tell Abiad, Ar-Raqqa Governorate: On 2 November, media sources reported that more than a dozen people had been killed and approximately 20 were injured in a VBIED detonation in a market in Tell Abiad. Both Turkish-linked combatants and civilians, including children, were reportedly among those killed in the explosion. The incident came one day after joint Turkish-Russian military patrols began in northeast Syria, and they followed two days after a VBIED explosion killed at least 8 individuals and injured at least 30 in a market in Afrin. Turkey has frequently blamed the YPG for VBIED, rocket attacks, and violence in Afrin, while the YPG holds that Turkey’s overall strategy throughout northern Syria is to bring about demographic change. Relatedly, the Turkey-backed National Army has reportedly begun to register the names of combatants and their family members who wish to relocate to communities brought under Turkish control in the ongoing Peace Spring military operation.

Analysis: Attacks targeting Turkish forces and civilian areas have been a common occurrence in Afrin since Turkey captured the predominantly Kurdish area from the SDF, in March 2018. Afrin may thus represent a template for the security dynamics to come in Tell Abiad and other areas in northeast Syria captured by the National Army. These dynamics are likely to include further asymmetric attacks against security forces and populated areas, as well as heightened security restrictions imposed by Turkish forces, arrest campaigns, and — most disconcerting — the resettlement of Arab combatants fighting in armed opposition groups backed by Turkey. The recent disclosure that National Army combatants may register to relocate with their family members to areas of northeast Syria captured by Turkey is significant for several reasons. First, along with the formation of a Syrian Interim Government-aligned local council in Tell Abiad, the measure broadcasts Turkey’s resolve to establish meaningful, potentially permanent, control in these areas, despite the pronouncements from Damascus. Second, although the actual feasibility of a plan to relocate civilians to northeast Syria on an accelerated basis is dubious, the announcement that registration has opened is likely to prompt a response locally. As in Afrin, YPG-linked actors are unlikely to countenance the demographic, military, and administrative changes that are rapidly taking shape in newly Turkish-controlled areas of northeast Syria. As such, further attacks in Tell Abiad and other areas that are now falling under Turkish control are likely, and security conditions in these communities are liable to deteriorate rapidly.

4. Three removed from ‘terror list’ as Government seeks influence in Dar‘a, Al-Hasakeh

Dar’a Governorate: On 4 November, media sources reported that the Government of Syria Directorate for Countering Money Laundry and Terrorism Financing had removed from its “terrorist list” the names of three individuals: Anwar Nour Al-Dine Kharnoub, Ghassan A’qleh Al-Mahameed, and Nawaf Abd Al-Aziz Mosallat. These individuals had been placed on the list in February 2018, and the directorate did not disclose the reason for their removal. However, each of the individuals represents a community important for the Government of Syria. Al-Mahameed was among the founders of the Southern Front in Dar‘a Governorate, and went on to occupy a seat on the High Negotiations Committee as southern Syria communities were rapidly negotiating local reconciliation agreements and the contours of their relationship with Damascus. Al-Mahameed is known as an advocate for reconciliation with the Government of Syria in the area, and previously lived in the United Arab Emirates. According to local sources, Al-Kharnoub is a businessman originally from Yabroud, in Rural Damascus, and is known to visit the United Arab Emirates on a frequent basis. Further information about his background is not immediately available. Mosallat is a leader of the Jabour tribe, one of the most powerful tribes in Al-Hasakeh governorate, which is known for its generally strong affiliation to the Government of Syria.

Analysis: The removal of names from the Government of Syria terrorism list is a vanishingly rare occurrence. In the present case, the Government of Syria’s decision to remove individuals from the list is likely motivated by its pressing need to make inroads into strategically significant communities, including by capitalizing on the leverage wielded on the local level by these individuals. The Government of Syria routinely interacts with various communities through the good offices of locally influential intermediaries, to include tribal leaders, religious figures, notables, and armed actors, who function as brokers between their communities and the central government. Such intermediaries were linchpins of negotiations over local reconciliation agreements in southern Syria in 2018, and in the post-reconciliation context, these actors remained active brokers of service provision, security conditions, conscription, and returns (see: Intermediaries of Return). It is crucial to note that the Government of Syria is increasingly desperate to contain the disorder in southern Syria and establish a firmer presence there. While the probable selection of new intermediaries should not be seen as an olive branch to these communities, it is almost certainly indicative of a wider strategy to engage these communities on their own terms, and it is also likely to be wide-reaching. Likewise, as the Government seeks to capitalize on the rapidly developing security situation in northeast Syria, tribal interlocutors will likely be a crucial constituency. To this end, the Jabour tribe, which is influential throughout central Al-Hasakeh governorate, will be an important ally in staging a return to areas that remain, for the time being, being the Government’s direct reach (see: Shifting Sands: Arab Tribal Political Realignment in Northeastern Syria).

5. MOU grants Iran power to rehabilitate Syrian electrical grid

Lattakia Governorate: On 2 November, Iranian Minister of Energy Reza Ardakanian and Syrian Minister of Electricity Mohammad Zuhair Kharboutli signed a memorandum of understanding granting Iran a concession to rehabilitate the Syrian electrical grid. The preliminary agreement covers the construction of power plants and transmission lines, and includes the possibility of directly connecting the two nation’s electrical grids through a trilateral agreement including Iraq. Iran has reportedly already begun to rehabilitate the electricity grid in Lattakia. Meanwhile, between 31 October and 3 November, representatives of the Government of Syria attended the International Electricity Exhibition in Tehran. At the exhibition, the Government of Syria reportedly signed a number of additional contracts, although the specific details have not been disclosed. Notably, these agreements come on the heels of Iran’s decision to reactivate a $3 billion credit line to the Government of Syria for the import of fuel and other commodities (Syria Update 23–29 October).

Analysis: Iran’s participation in the rehabilitation of the Syrian electrical network is highly significant; if carried out to its greatest extent, the plan will grant Iran a concession to control an entire line ministry and a vital service sector in Syria. Nonetheless, it is important to bear in mind that previous memoranda of understanding over electrical grid rehabilitation signed between the Government of Syria and Iran (in 2017 and 2018) collapsed without tangible progress. In both cases, Iran withdrew from the deals due to the Government of Syria’s inability to secure the necessary funding for the projects. Given the Government of Syria’s deep fiscal constraints, it is extremely unlikely that it has now secured the means to fund Iran’s participation in the ambitious rehabilitation plan. Thus, it is far more probable that Iran has agreed to fund the project in expectation of collecting future user fees; however, the project will also make inroads to guaranteeing a stable economic and security environment in post-conflict Syria. Inside Syria, frequent blackouts and inconsistent electricity provision are wellsprings of popular dissatisfaction with Damascus, and the Government of Syria has frequently identified rehabilitation of the electrical grid as a national priority for kickstarting Syria’s industrial economy. To that end, it is important that the agreement be seen within the context of Iran’s deepening economic commitment to Syria. Despite facing economic pressures domestically, Iran’s recent reactivation of a credit line to Syria suggests that it has doubled down on its Syria portfolio, likely as a means of guaranteeing a return on its significant investments to date. Although the crucial details of any agreement between Syria and Iran are yet to be seen, the ambitious regional energy plan may indeed come to fruition.

6. Increase in fuel and bread prices triggers anti-HTS demonstrations in Northwest

Idleb Governorate: On 1 November, local and media sources reported that popular demonstrations against HTS and the Salvation Government had erupted in cities across Idleb governorate, including Idleb, Saraqeb, Ma’arrat An Nu’man, and Kafr Takharim. Galvanized by deteriorating economic conditions, protesters excoriated HTS and the Salvation Government. On 5 November, as the protests became progressively more confrontational, civilians in Kafr Takharim raided an HTS-run police station and the zakat directorate, before driving HTS combatants out of the community. According to local and media sources, the popular mobilizations were triggered by worsening economic conditions, which were acutely felt due to the Salvation Government’s decision to reduce the weight of a pack by bread from 900 grams to 760 grams, while maintaining the price for a pack. It is important to note that these conditions are at least in part due to the closure of the Al-Aoun crossing point between Menbij and northwest Syria, which was closed following the Government of Syria’s redeployment to Menbij. As a result, the vital fuel trade from northeast Syria has ground to a halt, and local businesses and producers have resorted to using dramatically more expensive fuel imported by the Salvation Government-affiliated Watad company (500 SYP/0.76 USD per liter, compared to 350 SYP/0.52 USD for domestically procured fuel).

Analysis: In some sense, the immediate trigger of the increasingly emboldened protest movement in Idleb is the closure of the Al-Aoun crossing, which links Euphrates Shield and opposition-controlled areas of northwest Syria to Menbij. The latter area is the hub of the crossline fuel trade originating in northeast Syria. However, the Salvation Government’s failure to implement price controls or to subsidize the strategic goods and basic services that have been affected is highly consequential in this respect. The Salvation Government is already deeply unpopular in many communities in northwest Syria, including those in which protests have now broken out. The rising real cost of bread, fuel, and electricity will add considerably to this resentment and will likely spark further protests. Popular demonstrations have broken out on a large scale and in numerous communities in northwest Syria since late August (Syria Update 29 August – 4 September). It is important to note that fuel procured by Watad internationally is also subject to fluctuations in the market exchange rate for the Syrian lira, which dipped from 633 SYP/USD to 662 SYP/USD in October; as such, further instability in the costs of fuel and fuel-dependent services can be expected in northwest Syria so long as crossline fuel trade remains cut off. For further details on the trade patterns that illustrate northern Syria’s heavy reliance on crossline trade, see the COAR infographic Trade Dynamics in Northern Syria.

7. Northeast humanitarian conditions stabilize, but remain tenuous

Alok, Al-Hasakeh Governorate: Throughout the reporting period, humanitarian conditions in northeast Syria continued to stabilize, and large numbers of IDPs displaced throughout northeast Syria have returned. Following the Russian-Turkish agreement reached on 22 October, clashes have become increasingly localized on the frontlines near Ras Al Ain, and on the Ain al-Arab-Ein Issa road. Displacement has also has become progressively more concentrated to a limited number of communities; to that effect, following the initial waves of displacement from most border areas in northeast Syria, displacement is now largely limited to areas that are actively contested, or have come under the partial control of the Government of Syria, most notably Ar-Raqqa. Nonetheless, the impact the Turkish offensive lingers. The massive destruction of civil infrastructure has had a significant impact on services; as many as 750,000 people across Al-Hasakeh governorate are liable to go without centrally supplied water due to repeated targeting of the Alok water station, which supplies drinking water to approximately 80 percent of the governorate’s population (Syria Update 23-29 October). As of writing, all efforts to restore the station to functionality have failed, and alternative water sources fall far short of local demand. Most importantly, the Self Administration has also been under severe pressure to accommodate IDPs; to that end, local sources reported that the Self Administration has begun steps to create a new temporary shelter center in Tweineh village, north of Al-Hasakeh city, to host as many as 3,000 IDP families displaced from Ras Al Ain.

Analysis: In some important respects, the 22 October Russian-Turkish memorandum of understanding has de-escalated northeast Syria, at least in the immediate term. Indeed, the agreement has succeeded in containing Turkey’s military advances, and it has been instrumental in fostering the conditions to limit displacement; however, the sustainability of the agreement in the long term is highly dubious. The most foreboding consideration in this context relates to the territorial ambitions of Turkey. To that end, speaking to parliamentarians on 30 October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey reserves the right to “expand our safe zone area if needed.” Given that the Government of Syria also rejects the agreement and clashes between the National Army and Government of Syria, as well as the SDF, continue, the agreement should be seen as fragile at best, and wider conflict is almost certain to break out once more, at least in limited areas. In this context, it is important to note that despite the elastic nature of many displacements in northeast Syria to this point, the prospects for return among those displaced from areas captured by Turkey are highly doubtful (see Point No. 3).

The Wartime and Post-Conflict Syria project (WPCS) is funded by the European Union and implemented through a partnership between the European University Institute (Middle East Directions Programme) and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). WPCS will provide operational and strategic analysis to policymakers and programmers concerning prospects, challenges, trends, and policy options with respect to a conflict and post-conflict Syria. WPCS also aims to stimulate new approaches and policy responses to the Syrian conflict through a regular dialogue between researchers, policymakers and donors, and implementers, as well as to build a new network of Syrian researchers that will contribute to research informing international policy and practice related to their country.

The content compiled and presented by COAR is by no means exhaustive and does not reflect COAR’s formal position, political or otherwise, on the aforementioned topics. The information, assessments, and analysis provided by COAR are only to inform humanitarian and development programs and policy. While this publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union, its contents are the sole responsibility of COAR Global LTD, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.