Turkey to suspend Syria offensive, Mike Pence announces

Syria Turkey
Turkey to suspend Syria offensive, Mike Pence announces 14

Turkey has agreed to a ceasefire in northern Syria to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw, US Vice-President Mike Pence has announced.

The development followed talks in Ankara between Mr Pence and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

All military operations will be paused for five days, and the US will help facilitate an “orderly withdrawal” of Kurdish-led troops from what Turkey has termed a “safe zone” on the border.

Turkey launched its assault last week.

Its goal was to push back from its border a Kurdish militia – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – that it views as a terrorist organisation.

Turkey had hoped to resettle up to two million Syrian refugees in the area, but critics raised fears that could trigger ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population.

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The cross-border offensive came after US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling US forces out of the border region – a decision widely criticised in the US and internationally.

The SDF fought alongside the US against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, and the decision to leave the forces in the path of a likely Turkish invasion has been condemned as the abandonment of an ally.

How has Trump reacted?

President Trump tweeted about the Turkish ceasefire before Mr Pence unveiled it, writing: “Millions of lives will be saved!”

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Donald J. Trump

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Great news out of Turkey. News Conference shortly with @VP and @SecPompeo. Thank you to @RTErdogan. Millions of lives will be saved!

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8:29 PM – Oct 17, 2019

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He added later: “This deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago. There needed to be some “tough” love in order to get it done. Great for everybody. Proud of all!”

Mr Pence credited Donald Trump’s “strong leadership” during the announcement, saying: “He wanted a ceasefire. He wanted to stop the violence.”

“I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path,” Mr Trump added on Twitter.

What does Turkey say?

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists the offensive would only be permanently halted when the SDF had left the border zone.

“We are suspending the operation, not halting it,” he said. “We will halt the operation only after [Kurdish forces] completely withdraw from the region.”

Mr Cavusoglu said Turkey had also secured its goal of having heavy arms removed from the Kurdish-led fighters, and their positions destroyed.

Mr Pence said the US would lift economic sanctions imposed on Turkey when the military offensive ended, and would not impose more in the meantime.

The SDF was not represented at the talks between Washington and Ankara, and have not yet commented on the developments.

Mr Pence said the US had contacted the Kurdish-led alliance, and would help facilitate their withdrawal.

Speaking to Al Arabiya, senior Kurdish politician Aldar Xelil said he welcomed an end to the fighting, but that the SDF would defend itself if exposed to violence.

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