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Turkey agrees 5-day ceasefire in Syria

What happened: Turkey has agreed to suspend its military campaign in northern Syria for five days to allow Kurdish fighters to withdraw.

  • Yesterday US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and agreed that Turkey would: “pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG [Kurdish] fighter from the safe zone for 120 hours.” The ceasefire also stipulates that Kurdish militants, including the People’s Protection Units (YPG), would have their heavy weapons collected and their fortifications and fighting positions disabled. However, fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces is still being reported this morning in the border town of Ras al-Ayn.
  • According to the Turkish Foreign Minister, the US had agreed for Turkish forces to primarily enforce the safe zone and that once the withdrawal of Kurdish forces is complete, the US would lift the economic sanctions put in place on 14 October.
  • Syrian Democratic Force Commander General Mazloum said: “This ceasefire is for the region where fighting is ongoing at the moment. We agree on this ceasefire. This ceasefire is a result of the resistance of Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs and the pressure of the international community.”
  • Confusion remains as to where and how far Kurdish forces are required to withdraw. Turkey has spoken of a safe zone spanning 480km along the border and 30km deep inside Syrian territory. General Mazloum said his forces would only withdraw from the combat area, namely a small stretch of land from Ras al-Ayn to Tel Abyad. The ceasefire only talks of creating a safe zone, with the size of Turkish-occupied territory to be decided.
  • US President Donald Trump tweeted shortly after the ceasefire announcement: “This is a great day for civilisation. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this ‘Deal’ for many years. Millions of lives will be saved.”

Context: Turkey began its operation in northern Syria two days after Trump announced on 6 October that he was withdrawing US forces from areas of potential conflict in the area.

  • Since then, more than 500 people have been killed including dozens of civilians, mostly on the Kurdish side, and 300,000 civilians have been displaced within Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
  • Vice President Pence’s visit to Turkey came off the back of severe criticism in Congress  and on Wednesday Republicans and Democrats in the House voted overwhelming (354-60) to denounce the US troop withdrawal. The White House later released a letter in which Trump warned Erdogan that he would destroy the Turkish economy if Turkey didn’t stop its military operation.
  • Before the talks in Turkey yesterday, the Kurds indicated they would object to any agreement along the lines of what was announced by Pence. But Pence maintained that the US had obtained “repeated assurances from them that they’ll be moving out”.

Looking ahead: It remains unclear how long the Kurds will stick to the ceasefire, particularly if fighting continues in Ras al-Ayn. The ceasefire also does not set terms on the Syrian regime, which has described the Turkish operation as an “invasion,” nor on Russian forces that have replaced the US to monitor the area between Syrian and Kurdish forces. President Erdogan will visit Russia next week where it is expected that he and President Putin will agree to the exact size of the Turkish safe zone and the likely return of Syrian forces to the areas previously under Kurdish control.