Turkey to suspend Syria offensive, Mike Pence announces


Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionPence announces Turkish ceasefire in Syria

Turkey has agreed to a ceasefire in northern Syria to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw.

The development followed talks in Ankara between US Vice-President Mike Pence and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

All fighting will be paused for five days, and the US will help facilitate an “orderly withdrawal” of Kurdish-led troops from what Turkey terms a “safe zone” on the border, Mr Pence said.

The Kurdish YPG approved the ceasefire.

Its commander Mazloum Kobani said his forces would do anything to ensure its success – but added that it only applied in the border towns of Ras al-Ayin and Tal Abyad, which have seen fierce fighting in recent days.

Turkey launched the cross-border offensive last week, after US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling US forces out of the Syria-Turkey border region.

Its goal was to push back a Kurdish militia group – the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – that Turkey views as a terrorist organisation.

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

The US pullout triggered criticism in the US and beyond, as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – an alliance dominated by the YPG – fought against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria alongside US forces.

How has Trump reacted?

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

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.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionTrump on Turkey ceasefire: “It’s a great day for civilisation”

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

Just a day before the Pence-Erdogan meeting, it emerged that Mr Trump had sent his Turkish counterpart a letter about the offensive, urging him: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”

Turkish sources said President Erdogan threw the letter in the bin.

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.

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.