The Latest: Pence says 5-day cease-fire in Syria has held

1010 WINS Newsroom
October 22, 2019 - 8:54 pm

In this photo released on the official Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks with Syrian troops during his visit to the strategic town of Habeet, in the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. On Tuesday, Assad called the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "thief" during his first visit to territory captured from Turkey-backed rebels in the northwestern province of Idlib. (Facebook page of the Syrian Presidency via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the situation in Syria following the Turkish invasion earlier this month into the country's north (all times local):

3:55 a.m. Wednesday

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence says that a five-day cease-fire in Syria has held and that negotiations continue for a permanent cease-fire.

Pence says the U.S. "may well give the international community an opportunity to establish a safe zone between Turkey and the Kurdish population in Syria."

Pence says such a safe zone would ensure peace for everyone in the war-torn region.

Pence made the comments during a speech to conservatives at a Tuesday dinner in Washington.

U.S. troops in Syria fought five years alongside Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria and succeeded in bringing down the rule of the Islamic State group there.

Pence says the U.S. will always be grateful to its Kurdish allies, but now that the military has achieved its objective, President Donald Trump is "keeping his word to the American people" about bringing troops home.

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10:35 p.m. Tuesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Syrian President Bashar Assad to inform him about the provisions of a deal he struck with Turkey.

The Kremlin said Putin emphasized in Tuesday's call that the agreement should help restore Syria's territorial integrity.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Assad voiced support for the agreement and said that Syrian border guards were ready to deploy to the border with Turkey along with Russian troops in line with the agreement.

The agreement Putin struck with Erdogan allows Turkey to maintain control over the area in northeastern Syria it has taken since Oct. 9, when it launched an offensive against Kurdish fighters. It also calls for Kurdish withdrawal and lets Russian and Syrian troops control the rest of the border.

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10:20 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the Turkish military offensive in northeast Syria has made the issue of fighters for the extremist Islamic State group and their families detained in the region "even more acute today."

Robert Mardini, the ICRC's U.N. observer, told several reporters Tuesday: "We can only reiterate the urgency for states to take responsibility and repatriate their own citizens."

He said the "good news" is that the ICRC is still operating in the al-Hol camp in Hassakeh Province, which houses close to 70,000 people — many who fled the last IS battlefields and two-thirds of them women and children.

Mardini said there are an estimated 11,000 detainees, plus close to 100,000 in camps, including about 80,000 Syrians and Iraqis.

"So the stakes are extremely high in terms of security of those people, their physical integrity, their rights — and this is extremely high on our agenda," Mardini said.

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10:10 p.m.

Russia's defense minister says about 500 suspected militants have fled captivity from northeastern Syria since the start of Turkey's offensive in the area.

Sergei Shoigu said efforts are now being taken to apprehend the captives who fled. Syrian Kurdish forces held thousands of Islamic State group fighters in detention centers in the area and there have been concerns the detainees could escape.

Shoigu spoke to reporters Tuesday in Sochi, Russia after Russian and Turkish presidents made a deal to take shared control of the 440-kilometer (270-mile) Turkey-Syria border.

The agreement allows Turkish troops to control the area in northeastern Syria they have taken since Turkey launched its offensive on Oct. 9, while Russian military police and Syrian border guards will control the rest of the border.

Shoigu said the Russian military will need to bring in additional equipment to patrol the border to ensure Kurdish fighters withdraw from the 30-kilometer (19-mile)-wide area along the frontier.

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9:55 p.m.

Russia's foreign minister says that a deal between Russia and Turkey implies an end to the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria.

Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday the agreement reached by Russian and Turkish presidents in Sochi on Tuesday means "ending bloodshed, ending the operation that drew contradictory reaction in the world."

The deal made by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan allows Turkey to keep its troops in areas in northeastern Syria they seized since the start of Oct. 9 offensive and gives the Russian troops and the Syrian army control over the rest of the Syria-Turkey frontier.

Under the agreement, Kurdish fighters are to withdraw from the 30-kilometer (19-mile) wide border area in 150 hours starting at noon Wednesday. After that, Russia and Turkey will jointly patrol the area.

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8:40 p.m.

The U.N. says that nearly two weeks after Turkey launched its offensive in northeast Syria more than 176,000 people have been displaced, including nearly 80,000 children, and "critical infrastructure has been damaged."

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday that power lines have been damaged, reportedly affecting at least four medical facilities.

He said the Alouk water station, which serves over 400,000 people in Al-Hassakeh city and surrounding displacement camps, has received temporary repairs and generators are now being used to supply safe water for the population in the area.

Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that Imran Riza, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria, said after visiting the northeast that he was grateful U.N. appeals for humanitarian access were successful and water was restored, "averting more serious humanitarian problems."

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8:35 p.m.

Russian and Turkish leaders have made a deal to share control of Syria's northeast that requires Kurdish fighters to clear the entire length of the Syria-Turkey border.

The deal allows Turkey to maintain control of areas it pushed into launching its offensive into Syria earlier this month.

The agreement allows Russian and Syrian troops to control the rest of the border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also agreed that their troops will conduct joint patrols of the border area.

The agreement gives Kurdish fighters another 150 hours beginning Wednesday afternoon to clear all remaining areas alongside the 440-kilometer Turkey-Syria border.

Earlier Tuesday, Kurdish forces said they completed their pullout from a zone along the Syrian border as required under a U.S.-brokered cease-fire deal hours before it was set to expire Tuesday.

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8:20 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey and Russia have reached a deal in which Syrian Kurdish fighters will move 30 kilometers (18 miles) away from a border area in northeast Syria within 150 hours.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday, Erdogan said, the 150-hour time period would begin at noon Wednesday.

Turkey and Russia would then conduct joint patrols, he said.

The agreement came after the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish-led forces withdrew from an area in northern Syria that Turkey demanded be cleared of Kurdish fighters.

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7:50 p.m.

The White House says U.S. President Donald Trump has authorized $4.5 million to support Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets.

Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Tuesday that Trump is urging U.S. allies and partners to also support the Syrian Civil Defense group.

She says the funding, approved Monday, is part of the United States' continued support for the organization and its work in Syria.

Grisham says that during the eight-year conflict in Syria, the White Helmets have rescued more than 115,000 people. Because the group works in opposition-held areas, they are almost exclusively the only ones to offer rescue services.

The Syrian government and Russia have accused the White Helmets of cooperating with radical insurgent groups.

The White Helmets have enjoyed backing and received finances and training from the U.S. and other Western nations for years.

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7:30 p.m.

A senior Trump administration official says Syrian Kurdish-led forces have withdrawn from an area in northern Syria that Turkey wants cleared of Kurdish fighters.

That would mean the Kurdish forces have complied with the terms of a cease-fire in northeast Syria, just hours before it was set to expire Tuesday night.

The five-day pause in Turkey's invasion of northeastern Syria was negotiated by Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has said 1,300 Syrian Kurdish fighters had yet to vacate a stretch of the border, as required under the deal. The cease-fire was to run out at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) Tuesday evening.

The official says the Kurdish-led force's commander notified the White House of the withdrawal in a letter. The official spoke to reporters in Washington on condition of anonymity because the contents of the letter have not yet been publicly disclosed.

—By Matthew Lee

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7:25 p.m.

A senior Syrian Kurdish official says his forces have finished withdrawing from a border area before the end of a U.S.- brokered cease-fire.

But Redur Khalil says Turkish troops and allies are continuing military operations in northeastern Syria outside the withdrawal zone.

Khalil says Tuesday his forces have abided by the cease-fire that is set to expire in a few hours, pulling fighters out of a 120-kilometer (75-mile) stretch of land between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. But he said Turkish attacks are continuing outside of that area, capturing 15 Kurdish villages outside of the town of Kobani, and continuing to advance.

Turkey had threatened to relaunch its offensive if the withdrawal was not carried out. Ankara has agreed to the specified zone but Turkish officials said they still want to clear Kurdish fighters from their entire shared border.

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4:45 p.m.

Germany's foreign minister has expressed reservations about a proposal by the country's defense minister to establish an internationally controlled security zone in Syria with the inclusion of Turkey and Syria.

Heiko Maas told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that "one thing is clear above all else: a protection zone that permanently consolidates Turkey's military successes would not deserve this name. Nor must the Assad regime be recognized and strengthened through the back door."

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's proposal follows the invasion of northern Syria by Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters, launched after President Donald Trump pulled back American troops who had partnered with Syrian Kurdish forces in the years-long war against the Islamic State group.

Any participation of German troops would have to be cleared by German parliament.

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3:10 p.m.

Syrian President Bashar Assad says he is ready to support any "popular resistance" against Turkey's invasion of northeastern Syria.

The Syrian government has agreed, after Russia mediation, to deploy in areas Kurdish-led forces control in northeastern Syria after U.S troops withdrew. The U.S. withdrawal had opened the door for Turkey's offensive earlier this month.

Syria's troop deployment sets up a potential wider conflict between Turkey and Syrian government forces. But Russia, Assad's ally, is currently hosting negotiations with Turkey about arrangements along the border.

Assad says he has offered clemency to those who had joined the Kurdish-led forces, which his government considers secessionists.

Assad spoke Tuesday while visiting troops in another part of Syria.

This is his first tour of areas in the northwestern province of Idlib that were recaptured from opposition fighters. The majority of Idlib remains in the hands of Turkey-backed opposition fighters and jihadi groups.

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2 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sat down in Sochi with visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks on Syria.

Putin welcomed the Turkish leader in the Black Sea resort on Tuesday, saying their meeting is very important in the current tense situation in Syria. He noted that a high level of Russia-Turkey cooperation should help find solutions for the complex issues.

Turkey invaded northeastern Syria earlier his month in an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters following the U.S. decision to pull out its troops from the area.

Seeking protection, the Kurds have reached out to the Syrian government and its main ally Russia. The Syrian army has advanced closer to the border and Russia also deployed its troops in some areas to act as a buffer force.

Erdogan said the meeting with Putin will "create the opportunity to discuss peace in a strong manner." 

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1:25 p.m.

The Kremlin says Turkey needs the Syrian government's permission for the deployment of its forces on Syrian territory, indicating Moscow is hoping for Ankara-Damascus talks amid the Turkish invasion into northeastern Syria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov emphasized that only Damascus could authorize a legitimate presence of Turkish troops on the territory of Syria. Ankara has so far rejected any notion of direct Turkey-Syria talks about its actions.

Peskov spoke just ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Russia on Tuesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He wouldn't say if Putin-Erdogan talks in Sochi could lead to an extension of the 120-hour cease-fire that ends Tuesday, saying it would be up to Turkey to decide.

He noted that Russia acknowledges Turkey's right to secure its' border but added that it expects the Turkish offensive in Syria to be "proportionate" to that goal.

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1:10 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he may meet with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in London in December, to discuss Turkey's incursion into northeast Syria.

The comments on Tuesday came as Germany's defense minister proposed the establishment of an internationally controlled security zone in Syria and European Council President Donald Tusk called on Erdogan to pull his troops out of the region.

Erdogan did not respond to those statements but renewed a call on European nations to support Turkey's efforts to help resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees in a proposed "safe zone" in Syria's northeast.

Erdogan also slammed Iran after officials there denounced as "unacceptable" Turkey's plans to establish military observation posts in Syria.

He recalled the strong support Turkey gave Iran during its standoff with the United States over its nuclear program, as well as Turkey's partnership with Iran and Russia to end the conflict in Syria.

Erdogan says what Iran "did is wrong" and that he condemns it "strongly."

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12:20 p.m.

Syrian president Bashar Assad has slammed Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a "thief" as he made his first visit to areas in Idlib province recently retaken by Syrian government forces from Turkey-backed rebels.

Syrian state media showed images of Assad on Tuesday standing among Syrian soldiers in what the report said was strategic southern Idlib territory.

The media quoted Assad as calling Erdogan a "thief who robbed factories, wheat and fuel and is today stealing territory" — apparently referring to Turkey's invasion this month into northeastern Syria to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Turkey has also carried out other incursions into Syria and controls territory east of Idlib. It also has observation points inside Idlib, negotiated with Russia, to monitor a cease-fire there between the government and opposition fighters and jihadi groups.

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11:40 a.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says up to 1,300 Syrian Kurdish fighters have yet to vacate areas in northeastern Syria as a Turkish-U.S. cease-fire agreement is running out.

Erdogan spoke to reporters before traveling to Russia on Tuesday.

He says up to 800 Syrian Kurdish fighters have already left under the deal that brought a five-day pause in fighting following Turkey's incursion into northeast Syrian to drive the Kurdish militiamen away from its border areas.

Erdogan renewed threats to resume fighting "with more determination" if the Syrian Kurds don't depart before the deadline runs out at 10:00 p.m.

Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, for talks expected to focus on border areas that are currently held by Syrian government forces.

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11:30 a.m.

European Council President Donald Tusk is condemning Turkey's invasion of northern Syria and is calling on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to pull his troops out of the region.

Tusk told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday that "no one is fooled by the so-called cease-fire" agreement made last week by the U.S. and Turkey. Turkey expects the Syrian Kurdish fighters to pull back from a border area.

Tusk says that Turkey, which is a candidate for EU membership, "needs to end its military action permanently, withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law."

He says that "any other course means unacceptable suffering, a victory for Daesh, and a serious threat to European security."

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11:10 a.m.

Iraq's military says U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country.

Tuesday's statement says that American troops currently withdrawing from Syria have acquired permission from the Iraqi Kurdish regional government to enter Iraq to later be transferred out of the country.

It added that these troops do not have any approval to stay in Iraq.

The statement appears to contradict U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper who has said that under the current plan, all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the military will continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence.

Esper said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.

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10:40 a.m.

Germany's defense minister has proposed the establishment of an internationally controlled security zone in Syria.

The proposal comes as Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters invaded northern Syria earlier this month, after President Donald Trump pulled back American troops who had partnered with Syrian Kurdish forces in the years-long war against the Islamic State group.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told German news agency dpa on Tuesday that "the creation of an internationally controlled security zone with the inclusion of Turkey and Russia" would have the goal of deescalating the situation in northern Syria.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the German parliament would need to decide on whether German troops could participate in such a zone. She also told broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Chancellor Angela Merkel had been informed of the proposal.

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