US and Turkey agree ceasefire in Syria to allow Kurdish withdrawal

Mike Pence led the delegation to Turkey
Mike Pence led the US delegation to Turkey Credit: Anadolu Agency 

The US on Thursday announced a 120-hour ceasefire by Turkey in northeastern Syria to allow Kurdish fighters to withdraw from the region, in an apparent endorsment of the aims of the Turkish offensive.

Mike Pence, the US vice president, said that the Trump administration had also agreed not to implement the “massive” new sanctions it had been threatening over the assault and even promised to lift those imposed this week if the ceasefire holds.

Turkey has committed to a permanent cease-fire after the Kurdish retreat, but has made no promises to withdraw its fighters. 

The deal was struck after Mr Pence and Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, held face-to-face talks with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, in Ankara.

He was forced to fend off accusations that the deal amounted to a “second betrayal” of the Kurds, who the US relied upon in the fight against Isil, after Donald Trump gave the green light for the initial Turkish assault which began on October 9. 

A Turkish official told Reuters that Turkey "got exactly what we wanted out of the meeting”.

But it was unclear whether the agreement would ensure the withdrawal of Kurdish troops from the entire 20-mile deep "safezone" that Turkey has said it wants to create along a 300-mile stretch of its border with Syria.  The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Thursday night said it would abide by the terms of the ceasefire in a much smaller area between the towns of Tal Abyad to Ras al-Ain.  

Mr Trump on Thursday night endorsed the deal from a far, tweeting that it was “good news” and adding: “Millions of lives will be save!”

He tweeted: “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!”

Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, said the country's military operation would only fully be halted once all Kurdish forces had gone.

Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Ankara, facing an impossible task Credit: Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Mr Pence, announcing the agreement at a press conference in Ankara, said that America supports Mr Erdogan’s plan to turn the area into a “safezone”.

He also claimed that to have talked to YPG leaders who had “greatly welcomed” the deal.

Turkish officials questioned Mr Pence's claim that they had agreed not to invade the Kurdish-held city of Kobani, saying no guarantees had been agreed on that subject. 

Mr Pence said that Mr Trump had been threatening “massive” sanctions on Turkey if no ceasefire was agreed. Those will not take place while the ceasefire is in place. Mr Trump’s agreement to reverse even the sanctions applied this week, which targeted Turkish cabinet members and was done amid intense pressure from Congress, could provoke a backlash in Washington.

Donald Trump's letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Credit: AFP

The Kurdish Red Crescent issued an urgent appeal to the International Committee of the Red Cross to organise the evacuation of civilians from the border town Ras al-Ain, also known as Serikane, which has been at the centre of past eight days' fighting.  

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish and Turkish-backed forces, who have been trying to storm the city, made further gains in the under cover of heavy artillery fire on Thursday morning. 

The SDF said the only hospital there was bombed and a civilian convoy hit by shells or an airstrike on Thursday morning. The group also accused Turkey of using using "non-conventional" weapons in the city.  

"Faced with the obvious failure of his plan, Erdogan is resorting to weapons that are globally banned such as phosphorus and napalm," it said in a statement.The claim could not be immediately verified.

The ceasefire came the day after a letter which Mr Trump sent to Mr Erdogan last week emerged. The White House released copies to help show how tough their stance had been to Turkey.

Written in colloquial, non diplomatic language, it used a combination of exhortation laced with threats to persuade Mr Erdogan to reverse a decision to invade Syria that the Turkish leader told Mr Trump about in an Oct 6 phone call.

“Let's work out a good deal!” Mr Trump began. “You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy - and I will.”

He went on: ”I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don't let the world down. You can make a great deal.“

The president said he was enclosing a letter from the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, that included offers of important concessions. ”

“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool!”said Mr Trump, before signing off with: “I will call you later.”

Turkish officials confirmed the letter was genuine and said Mr Erdogan simply threw the letter in the bin and ordered the attack to begin.