Conflict and Fragility

Stabilizing northern Syria: try a pragmatic & gradual approach
03 May 2022 14:00 - 15:30
Source: Civilians returning to Tell Abyad, Syria in June 2015 ©VOA photo/Wikimedia Commons


An online side-event at the Syria Brussels-VI conference.

ClingendaelSupporting the future of Syria and the region





The problem that this event will grapple with is how Western countries can encourage and support better connectivity between the different parts of northern Syria to alleviate urgent humanitarian and developmental needs.

We will address this problem by discussing four questions:

  1. What kind of practical arrangements need to be put in place between HTS, Turkey/Etilaf, regime actors and SDF to improve humanitarian and development prospects across northern Syria? Who can facilitate discussions about such arrangements?
  2. What are the incentives of the various armed actors and their patrons that need to be considered?
  3. What humanitarian sanction wavers need to be obtained to enable more cross-line engagement?
  4. What agreements and coordination between Turkey and the EU can help bring it about?


We have invited four speakers to share their reflections on these questions for about 10 minutes each, after which we proceed with a facilitated discussion – drawing on questions from the audience in the process.

  • Malik al-Abdeh, Conflict Mediation Solutions
  • Natasha Hall, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Carl Hallergard, European External Action Service
  • Sinan Hatahet, European University Institute

Moderated by Erwin van Veen, senior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute. 


Conflict context of northern Syria

A long-term solution for the Syrian conflict based on UNSCR 2254 will not emerge from the UN-hosted Geneva talks anytime soon. These talks were already deadlocked for years and are further complicated by Assad’s cordial reception in the UAE and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This means northern Syria will remain a patchwork of HTS, Turkish/Etilaf, regime and SDF-controlled territories in which each party exercises limited governance. The area is also home to a significant group of IDPs and an entrenched war economy. Humanitarian and livelihood prospects are poor.

Despite the lack of a credible pathway to peace, regime intransigence and a polarized Western approach to dealing with the Assad regime, trade, business deals and other cross-line flows of goods and people flourish between the different areas of northern Syria. Armed actors control much of it, however, which is enabled in part by international reluctance to create and support pragmatic mechanisms for local conflict management.

For humanitarian, security and livelihood prospects to improve across northern Syria, cross-line activities – e.g. travel, trade and aid - need to be become more accessible, more predictable and better regulated so that they can increase, diversify beyond armed groups and benefits spread more widely. Only in this manner can urgent economic and livelihood needs be alleviated in the short-term, and further regression of conditions in northern Syria prevented. Doing so does not mean that the highly disputed big ticket items of UNSCR 2254 on power sharing become irrelevant. Instead, they will sit in the background, waiting for a window of opportunity to open.

Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed during the side events reflect solely those of the speakers and/or organisers and do not constitute endorsement by the European Union or the United Nations