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Turkey to suspend Syria offensive, Mike Pence announces

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters sit in the back of a truck in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad on October 17, 2019Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The US had been pushing Turkey and its allies to end the offensive in northern Syria

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.

It aimed to push back the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia that Ankara views as a terrorist group, and resettle up to two million Syrian refugees in the area.

Critics raised fears that the move could trigger ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population.

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.

Mr Trump tweeted about the 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.”

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.”

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Vice-President Mike Pence made the announcement beside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

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 already contacted the Kurdish-led alliance, and would help facilitate its withdrawal.

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