Turkey, US agree on 120-hour ceasefire in Syria to allow Kurdish fighters to retreat

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Turkey agreed on Thursday to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to let Kurdish forces withdraw from a 'safe zone' Ankara had sought to capture, in a deal hailed by the Trump administration and cast by Turkey as a complete victory.
Smoke rises from targets inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces at Ras Al-Ein town, on Oct 17, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ANKARA (REUTERS) - United States Vice-President Mike Pence said on Thursday (Oct 17) that he had reached a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a ceasefire in northern Syria to end an eight-day-old Turkish offensive against Kurdish-led forces.

Speaking after crisis talks with Mr Erdogan in Ankara, Mr Pence said that under the deal, all military operations would be paused to allow a pullback of Kurdish YPG militia over a 120-hour period.

The Turkish military operation would end once that withdrawal is complete, he told a news conference.

"Today, the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria," Mr Pence said after more than four hours of talks at the presidential palace in Ankara.

"The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours.

"All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal."

Mr Pence said US forces in the region had already begun to facilitate a safe disengagement of YPG units.

The deal struck with Mr Erdogan also provided for Turkey not to engage in military operations in the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobani.

Mr Pence said the US and Turkey had committed to a peaceful resolution of Ankara's demand for a "safe zone" in northern Syria near Turkey's border, one of the objectives of the Turkish offensive.

He added that he had spoken to US President Donald Trump after the talks and that Mr Trump had expressed his gratitude for the ceasefire accord.

The deal was a major contribution to relations between Nato allies Turkey and the US, which have become strained in recent months.

After Mr Pence and Mr Erdogan met at the presidential palace, talks between the Turkish and US delegations continued for over four hours - well past their expected duration.

Mr Pence's mission was to persuade Mr Erdogan to halt the internationally condemned offensive, but Turkish officials said before the meeting began that the action would continue regardless.

The Turkish assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria, with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for President Trump.

Mr Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led fighters, Washington's main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State's self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on Oct 9.

Mr Trump defended his move on Wednesday as "strategically brilliant". He said he thought Mr Pence and Mr Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that "will be devastating to Turkey's economy" otherwise.

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