HD has been working in Syria since the fighting broke out in 2012, focusing on establishing a conducive environment for peace negotiations. The organisation continues to adapt its work to the complex and evolving situation across the country, identifying areas at risk and aiming to prevent the conflict from escalating. HD has established a network of contacts among all the conflict parties as well as civil society and international actors. It is focused on finding effective and sustainable ways with which the parties can de-escalate the situation and resolve conflict, including by supporting formal international peace processes.
Since 2012, the Syrian conflict has resulted in casualties, displacement and destruction, where those searching for a negotiated solution to end this complex conflict have had to continually adapt to the changing circumstances.
Towards the end of 2016, there was a significant change in the conflict dynamics as a result of close co-operation between Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as the recapturing of eastern Aleppo by the Syrian Government and its allied forces. In December 2016, Russian-Iranian-Turkish co-operation produced a ceasefire across most of the northern opposition battlefields (excluding listed terrorist groups), while less formal arrangements involving Jordan and Damascus also slowed the pace of war in southern areas.
Local agreements have also been reached between the Syrian Government and some opposition armed groups. These have generally followed significant bombing and the denial of humanitarian aid for trapped populations. The result has been the return of Government rule to the areas concerned and the surrender of fighters or their evacuation with their civilian relatives to other opposition-held areas.
2017 was one of the deadliest years since the beginning of the conflict, partly due to the international coalition’s bombings of areas occupied by Islamic State forces. Armed opposition groups lost control of large swathes of territory to Damascus and extremist organisations, while the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces emerged as the clear winner of the war against the Islamic State.
By the end of 2017, the conflict appeared to have entered a new phase. Conflict lines had stabilized and attention has turned to governing and administering areas no longer under the control of the Islamic State.
2017 also saw the development of further efforts to resolve the conflict with new rounds of international and intra-Syrian meetings in Switzerland (Geneva), Kazakhstan (Astana) and Saudi Arabia (Riyadh). The talks in Astana led to the establishment of de-escalation zones in different parts of the country. However, all political initiatives, including the Geneva peace process led by the United Nations, have been rejected by the Syrian Government, and most humanitarian attempts to relieve human suffering have failed. The new power balance which has emerged in the country could either lead to a new escalation of the conflict, or a new opportunity to resolve it.
HD has been working discreetly with all parties to the conflict. These efforts include in-country research to gain a better understanding of the conflict dynamics as well as facilitating dialogue and meetings between diverse groups, preparing parties for negotiations, and maintaining backchannels between Syrian and international actors. HD has been acting independently from all actors, including the United Nations, while seeking to complement formal peace processes.
In 2017, HD ran several dialogue initiatives to build confidence between those involved in the conflict. The organisation focused on facilitating dialogue between armed opposition groups, members of the delegations to the Astana and Geneva talks, members of the High Negotiations Committee, members of the Syrian Interim Government, and international actors. HD aims to build the capacity of the parties to participate constructively in formal peace talks.
HD has also deepened its dialogue with relevant figures from the wider region, gaining support for initiatives to de-escalate the Syrian conflict. HD has continued to maintain a parallel dialogue with the Syrian Government, to explore ways to generate dialogue and interaction between the Syrian Government and the Syrian opposition. As the situation develops, HD will keep working with all the parties to identify innovative ways to reach a resolution to the conflict.