Turkey agrees ‘ceasefire’ in Syria offensive to allow Kurds out

Turkey has agreed to suspend its incursion into northern Syria to allow Kurdish fighters to withdraw, following talks with the US.

The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been having discussions with America’s vice president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Ankara.

In a news conference, Mr Pence said they had “agreed a ceasefire in Syria”, which will last five days.

Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain during Turkey's military offensive
Image: Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain during Turkey’s military offensive

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters fire a truck mounted heavy gun near the town of Tukhar, north of Syria's northern city of Manbij, on October 14, 2019, as Turkey and it's allies continues their assault on Kurdish-held border towns in northeastern Syria. - Turkey wants to create a roughly 30-kilometre (20-mile) buffer zone along its border to keep Kurdish forces at bay and also to send back some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it hosts. (Photo by Aref TAMMAWI / AFP) (Photo by AREF TAMMAWI/AFP vi
Image: Turkish-backed Syrian fighters near the town of Tukhar, north of Syria’s northern city of Manbij

“The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG [Kurdish] forces from the safe zone for 120 hours,” he added.

And once their withdrawal was complete, Operation Peace Spring “will be halted entirely”.

US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Great news out of Turkey,” which needed “tough love in order to get it done”.

Later he thanked his Turkish counterpart, calling Mr Erdogan “a tough man, a strong man, and he did the right thing”.

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He admitted it was harder than expected to achieve something the Turks had wanted for 10 years.

“You would have lost millions and millions of lives. When those guns start shooting, things tend to happen.”

Mr Pence added the US has “already begun to facilitate [YPG forces] safe withdrawal of the nearly 20-mile safe zone.”

And he said Turkey has agreed to engage in no military action against the community of Kobani.

The deal, he said, “ends the violence, which is what President Trump sent us here to do. Thanks to the agreement we made today and the strong stance that PT took, we’ve achieved that”.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels ride through the Turkish border town of Akcakale
Image: Turkish-backed Syrian rebels ride through the Turkish border town of Akcakale

“The US will continue to engage diplomatically, politically, and of course, with human aid and to support all of the people affected in this region.”

The Turkish assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians fleeing the violence, and a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters potentially abandoned in Kurdish jails.

Mr Pence announced that Washington and Ankara would still work together to defeat IS militants, some of whom have escaped from captivity in the confusion of the offensive.

However, he also confirmed that Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from the region, which precipitated Turkey’s action, would stand.

But Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in a later news conference, denied it was a ceasefire.

He said the agreement struck with Mr Pence gives his country control of the border “safe zone” in Syria, which Turkey said it needed to thwart what it sees as Kurdish terrorist attacks.

Turkey was persuaded, Mr Pence said, by the US president’s threat to impose further economic sanctions on top of those already introduced since Turkish forces launched their campaign a week ago.

The agreement essentially gives Mr Erdogan what he wanted from the military operation in the first place; the removal of the Kurdish forces from the border “safe zone”, roughly 20 miles south of the Turkish border.

The Kurds were not involved in the talks but the early signs were promising.

Senior Kurdish politician Aldar Xelil said they will abide by the agreement but defend themselves if attacked.

Kurdish groups said they felt betrayed by the unexpected US withdrawal, after they led the fight against IS with American backing.

At least 224 fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and 183 Turkish-backed rebels have died after the first eight days of fighting, the Syrian Observatory said, along with at least 72 civilians.

Following the US withdrawal, the Kurds had responded by effectively switching allegiances and invited forces of the Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, into towns and cities in areas they control.

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