Live Updates: Syria Kurds Begin Withdrawing From Turkish Border

U.S. to facilitate withdrawal of YPG forces during 5-day 'pause' ■ Latest estimate says close to 400 military casualties from fighting, at least 72 civilians ■ Pompeo meets with Netanyahu in Jerusalem ■ More than 190,000 displaced, with humanitarian concerns mounting

Syrians flee the countryside of the northeastern Syrian town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border, October 19, 2019
AFP

A senior Syrian Kurdish official says his forces will pull back from a border area in accordance with a U.S.-brokered deal after Turkey allows the evacuation of its remaining fighters and civilians from a besieged town there.

Turkey said the U.S. had agreed to put it in charge of an elusive 'safe zone' in the war-torn region, and to the complete withdrawal and effective disarmament of its Kurdish opponent.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 44Haaretz

Turkey's week-long assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with at least 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 Trump. Aid agencies have warned over potentially catastrophic water shortages, and other public health issues.

5:16 P.M. Kurds begin evacuation from besieged Syrian border town

Kurdish fighters and civilians began evacuating from a besieged Syrian town on Sunday, the first pullback under the U.S.-brokered cease-fire deal, opening the way to a broader withdrawal of the Kurdish-led forces from parts of the Turkish border.

The evacuation is a boost to a cease-fire that has been shaky since it began on Thursday evening. Clashes have erupted daily, with occasional shelling, particularly around Ras al-Ayn, the border town where Kurdish fighters have been encircled by Turkish-led forces.

A local official in Ras al-Ayn told the Associated Press that Kurdish fighters and civilians had begun leaving in convoys. He said it was unsure if it would be completed Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the process.

The cease-fire deal only calls for fighters to leave the border area. But Kurdish civilians flee as well because without their protection they fear atrocities by the Turkish-backed Syrian forces. Those fighters, who are Arab and often Islamist extremists, have been accused of killings of Kurdish civilians and captured fighters during this campaign and in other Syrian territory seized in Turkish campaigns since 2017.

A senior official in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Redur Khalil, said that after the Ras al-Ayn evacuation, the forces will withdraw from a zone about 120 kilometers (75 miles) wide and 30-kilometers (20 miles) deep between Ras al-Ayn and the town of Tel Abyad further west.

3:49 P.M. Clashes amid efforts for Kurdish pullout from Syrian border town

Kurdish-led fighters and Turkish-backed forces clashed sporadically Sunday in northeastern Syria amid efforts to work out a Kurdish evacuation from a besieged border town, the first pull-back under the terms of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire.

Turkey said one of its soldiers was killed in the day's violence.

The planned evacuation of Kurdish fighters and civilians from the town of Ras al-Ayn would open the way to a pull-out of the fighters from a broader swathe of territory along the border, a senior official in the Kurdish-led forces told the Associated Press

3:25 P.M. Pentagon Chief says U.S. troops leaving Syria will be stationed in western Iraq

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that under current plans all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the American military will continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence.

Esper, who arrived in the Afghan capital on Sunday, did not rule out the idea that U.S. forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he told reporters traveling with him that those details will be worked out over time.

His comments were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they leave Syria and what the counter-ISIS fight could look like. Esper, who flew overnight to Afghanistan, said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.

11:16 A.M. Turkey, Russia to discuss removal of Kurdish militia from Manbij, Kobani

Turkey and Russia will discuss the removal of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia from the northern Syrian towns of Manbij and Kobani during talks in Sochi next week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday. (Reuters)

9:47 A.M. Kurds say they will withdraw from border

A senior Syrian Kurdish official says his forces will pull back from a border area in accordance with a U.S.-brokered deal after Turkey allows the evacuation of its remaining fighters and civilians from a besieged town there.

Redur Khalil, a senior Syrian Democratic Forces official, said Saturday the plan for evacuation from the town of Ras al-Ayn is set for the following day, if there are no delays. He says only after that will his force pull back from a 120-kilometer (75-mile) area between the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal-Aybad. It will withdraw and move back from the border 30 kilometers (19 miles). (AP)

6:02 A.M. Pelosi holds talks in Jordan with King Abdullah

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior members of Congress held talks in Jordan on Saturday with King Abdullah II and other top Jordanian officials.

Pelosi said in a statement the visit was at "a critical time for the security and stability of the region... With the deepening crisis in Syria after Turkey's incursion, our delegation has engaged in vital discussions about the impact to regional stability, increased flow of refugees, and the dangerous opening that has been provided to ISIS, Iran and Russia."

The U.S. delegation included the heads of key House committees including Foreign Affairs committee chairman Eliot Engel, Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson, Intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff and Representative Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. (Reuters)

5:35 A.M. Pentagon chief says all U.S. troops withdrawing from Syria will be stationed in Iraq

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State militants and "to help defend Iraq." (Reuters)

3:44 A.M. Syrian Kurds say they will withdraw from border area

A senior Syrian Kurdish official says his forces will pull back from a border area in accordance with a U.S.-brokered deal after Turkey allows the evacuation of its remaining fighters and civilians from a besieged town there.

Redur Khalil, a senior Syrian Democratic Forces official, said Saturday the plan for evacuation from the town of Ras al-Ayn is set for the following day, if there are no delays.

He says only after that will his force pull back from a 120-kilometer (75-mile) area between the towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal-Aybad. It will withdraw and move back from the border 30 kilometers (19 miles). (AP)

9:20 P.M. Turkey wants Syrian forces moved back

The spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey wants Syrian government forces to move away from a border area so it can resettle up to 2 million refugees. Ibrahim Kalin told The Associated Press in an interview that Erdogan will raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Sochi on Tuesday. Kalin said the refugees "don't want to go back to areas under regime control." (AP)

8:00 P.M. Turkish Red Crescent delivers aid to Syrian town

The Turkish Red Crescent says it has delivered humanitarian aid to hundreds of people in the town of Ras al-Ayn in northern Syria following Turkey's military offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces.

The humanitarian organization said it delivered food aid to 2,000 people. Video showed Turkish soldiers and Turkey-backed Syrian forces as people lined up for aid packs.

Turkish Red Crescent and Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Agency staff delivered the aid. (AP)

4:30 P.M. Erdogan to discuss Syrian deployment in 'safe zone' with Putin next week

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he would discuss the deployment of Syrian government forces in a planned "safe zone" in northern Syria during talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin next week, but warned Ankara would "implement its own plans" if a solution was not reached.

Speaking at an opening ceremony in the central Turkish province of Kayseri, Erdogan also said Turkey would "crush the heads" of Kurdish militants in northern Syria if they did not withdraw from the area during the 120-hour period. (Reuters)

3:59 P.M. Turkish troops ready to continue Syria offensive if truce deal not implemented, minister says

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, before talks with Mike Pence, left, Ankara, Turkey, October 17, 2019
,AP

 Turkish troops in northern Syria are ready to continue their offensive if a deal with Washington to pause the conflict while Kurdish fighters withdraw is not fully implemented, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday. "We paused the operation for five days. In this time, the terrorists will withdraw from the safe zone, their weapons will be collected and position destroyed. If this doesn't happen, we will continue the operation," Akar said.

"Our preparations are ready. With the necessary order, our soldiers are ready to go anywhere," he told an event in Kayseri. (Reuters)

1:30 P.M. Turkey says 41 suspected ISIS members re-captured

Turkey's interior minister says 41 suspected Islamic State members were re-captured after fleeing a detention camp earlier this week in Syria, amid heavy fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces.

Suleyman Soylu said that 195 other suspected IS members had already been re-taken.

His comments were carried by Turkish television on Saturday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Syrian Kurdish forces of releasing some 750 IS members and families, amid Turkey's offensive.

11:15 A.M. Syrian Kurdish forces says Turkey is failing to abide by cease-fire

Syrian Kurdish forces say Turkey is failing to abide by terms of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire, refusing to lift a siege it imposed on a key border town in northeastern Syria 30 hours after the truce went into effect.

The Syrian Democratic Forces called Saturday on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who negotiated the deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to take responsibility for enforcing the five-day cease-fire.

The cease-fire got off to a rocky start, with sporadic fighting and shelling around Ras al-Ayn Friday. The border town is a test for the deal in which Turkey asks that Kurdish fighters vacate the frontier zone.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that Turkey-backed Syrian fighters have prevented a medical convoy from reaching Ras al-Ayn since Friday.

From right to left, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Pence, Erdogan, Turkish VP Fuat Oktay and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, October 17, 2019
Jacquelyn Martin,AP

1:21 A.M. Pompeo renews commitment to a "Turkish-controlled safe zone"

"This solution will save lives and contribute to long-term stability in the region," the U.S. Secretary of State tweeted after a visit to NATO heaquarters. 

The organization has stood by its Turkish member until now, despite international outcry over the Turkish operation that began last week. 

"Turkey is on the frontline, forefront of a volatile region." NATO secretary general Jens Stollenberg said at a joint press conference with Mike Pompeo. "No other Ally suffered more terrorist attacks, they host millions of refugees and Turkey has legitimate security concerns," he added, before making a plea for humanitarian concerns. 

Turkey has NATO’s second biggest army, and it hosts the Incirlik air base, home to several dozen U.S. nuclear warheads and an important staging point for access to the Middle East.

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10:24 P.M. Kurds call for international organizations, U.S. to deploy observers

A statement from the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, accuses Turkey of committing genocide, a Foreign Policy correspondent reported. 

The letter reiterates claims that Turkey has violated the cease-fire, and asks for international actors, including the U.S., to deploy observers to monitor "in order to maintain the temporary cease-fire agreement and make it permanent." 

8:15 P.M. Esper says U.S. troops will not enforce Syria 'safe zone'

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that no U.S. troops will take part in enforcing the so-called safe zone in northern Syria and the United States "is continuing our deliberate withdrawal from northeastern Syria."

"No U.S. ground forces will participate in the enforcement of the safe zone, however we will remain in communication with both Turkey and the SDF," (Syrian Democratic Forces) Esper told reporters.

Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters fire a heavy machine-gun towards Kurdish fighters, in Syria's northern region of Manbij on October 14, 2019.
AP Photo

6:45 P.M. Trump says 'good will' on both sides, oil and Islamic State fighters secured

Trump wrote in a series of Tweets on Friday evening that he and Erdogan spoke about the Syrian Kurdish accusations that Turkey violated the cease-fire agreement with its shelling of Ras al Ain. "He told me there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated. He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work," Trump wrote.

"Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen. Too bad there wasn’t.this thinking years ago," the Tweets continued. "Instead, it was always held together with very weak bandaids, and in an artificial manner. There is good will on both sides and a really good chance for success. The U.S. has secured the Oil, and the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds and Turkey."

5:01 P.M. Erdogan says Turkey to establish 12 observation posts in safe zone

Turkey aims to establish 12 observation posts in a planned so-called safe zone in northern Syria, Erdogan said on Friday, adding Ankara would respond if the Syrian government "makes a mistake" in the region.

Speaking to foreign press, Erdogan said 2 million refugees can be settled in the "safe zone" if it includes the cities of Deir Al Zor and Raqqa. Turkey hosts 3.6 million refugees that have fled the eight-year war in Syria.

Erdogan added that Turkey will respond if the Syrian government, which has moved into some areas that YPG has already left, "makes a mistake."

4:50 P.M. Macron calls Turkish operation "madness"

French President Emmanuel Macron says Turkey's military operation in Syria is "madness." 

Russian and Syrian national flags flutter on military vehicles near Manbij, Syria October 15, 2019.
\ OMAR SANADIKI/ REUTERS

Speaking in Brussels after a meeting of the European Union, Macron said he wants France, Germany and Britain to organize a meeting "in the coming weeks" with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Macron reaffirmed that foreign fighters from the Islamic State group who might flee Syrian detention centers and go to Iraq should be arrested and sent to trial there.

For those who would try to go to France, "there's no direct airline from the Syrian camps to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (airport)", he said. Macron said French members of the IS group who might got to Turkey on their way to France would be arrested and sent to trial in France, according to a cooperation protocol between France and Turkey.

4:20 P.M. EU council president: Syria cease-fire "a demand of capitulation of the Kurds"

After EU nations condemned Turkey's offensive in Syria, EU Council President Donald Tusk said the U.S.-Turkey agreement to lay down arms for five days was not a serious initiative. "This so-called cease-fire. This is not what we expected. In fact it is not a cease-fire, it is a demand of capitulation of the Kurds," Tusk said after the EU summit.

"We have to reiterate our call for Turkey to put a permanent end to its military action immediately and to withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law," he said.

3:19 P.M. Erdogan says Syria offensive will continue if truce not fully implemented

Military vehicles transporting Syrian regime troops and rolled up mattresses are stationed on the outskirts Kobane, October 16, 2019.
AFP

Turkey will continue its offensive into northeast Syria more rapidly than before if an agreement with the United States to pause the operation and allow the withdrawal of Kurdish forces is not fully implemented, Erdogan said on Friday.

Erdogan also told journalists that it was not a problem for Turkey if Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, were to enter areas cleared of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, adding that Ankara had no intention to stay in areas under its control in northern Syria.

2:10 P.M. Erdogan says there are no ongoing clashes in northeast Syria

Erdogan said on Friday that there were no ongoing clashes in northeastern Syria, depite audible shelling at the Syrian-Turkish border.

12:20 A.M. Kurds say Syria town besieged despite cease-fire agreement

A spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish forces says a border town remains besieged and is being shelled by Turkey and its allied forces, despite a cease-fire agreement.

Mervan, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said Friday his group's militiamen are not withdrawing in accordance with the cease-fire deal reached overnight because the town of Ras al Ain remains besieged. He says Turkey and allied fighters continue to target the town.

The Kurdish Red Crescent said its vehicles can't reach Ras al Ain to evacuate the wounded.

11:50 A.M. Kurdish fighter: Syrian force won't leave border

A member of the Syrian Kurdish force says its fighters will not pull back from border towns, asserting that an agreement with Turkey to vacate those areas "will not work."

The fighter spoke Friday while Ras al Ain, a town on the border, was shelled from Turkey despite the cease-fire agreement brokered overnight between the U.S. and Turkey. The Syrian Kurdish forces say they will abide by the cease-fire.

But the Kurdish fighter says the agreement — which asks them to withdraw — is an "insult" to the force. He says the Kurds will not give up their land. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

11:40 A.M. Turkish soldier killed by shots fired from Iran

Turkey's Defense Ministry says a soldier has been killed by shots fired across the border from Iran during a border patrol.

A ministry statement on Friday said the soldier was killed in the border town of Caldiran, in eastern Van province. Two other soldiers were lightly wounded, it said.

It was not immediately clear if the attack was related to Turkey's invasion of northeast Syria against Kurdish forces. 

Iran — like Turkey, Iraq and Syria — is home to an ethnic Kurdish population. An Iranian Kurdish militant group, also accused of links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, operates there.

9:00 A.M. Pompeo meets with Netanyahu in Jerusalem

Syrian government forces arrive in the town of Tal Tamr, not far from the flashpoint Kurdish Syrian town of Ras al-Ain on the border with Turkey, October 15, 2019.
AFP
Displaced people fleeing from the countryside of the Syrian Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain along the border with Turkey, October 16, 2019.
AFP

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to discuss U.S. policy on Syria, a day after Turkey agreed to suspend its military operations in the country's northeast on Thursday in a meeting that lasted longer than five hours with top American officials.

8:45 A.M. Shelling heard around Syrian town after Turkish-U.S. cease-fire deal 

Shelling and gunfire resounded in the area of northeast Syria's Ras al Ain town on Friday, a day after Turkey agreed with the United States to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw.

From the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar across the border from Ras al Ain, the sound of machine-gun fire and shelling was heard in the area of Ras al Ain. Smoke rose from one part of the Syrian town.

7:30 A.M. Pompeo arrives in Israel

3:00 A.M. Trump defends Middle East policy, says ISIS is under control

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday defended his Middle East policy, as he comes under bipartisan criticism over his administration's move to withdraw U.S. troops from northeast Syria and an agreement for a 120-hour pause to a Turkish incursion of the area. "ISIS is totally under control and we're continuing to capture more," Trump said.

12:40 A.M. U.S. says struck cease-fire deal knowing Kurdish YPG could not hold territory

The United States struck a cease-fire agreement with Turkey on Thursday that will halt the fighting in exchange for a retreat by Kurdish YPG militia from a "safe zone" area in part because the U.S. believed the Kurds would not be able to hold that area militarily anyway, a top U.S. official said.

"There's no doubt that the YPG wishes that they could stay in these areas," U.S. Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey told pool reporters traveling with him. "It is our assessment that they have no military ability to hold onto these areas and therefore we thought that a cease-fire would be much better ... for trying to get some kind of control over this chaotic situation." (Reuters)

11:09 P.M. Syrian Kurdish force to abide by cease-fire

The commander of Kurdish-led forces in Syria has told Kurdish TV that they will abide by a cease-fire agreement announced in Ankara by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Mazloum Abdi tells Ronahi TV that the extent of the cease-fire stretches 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the town of Tal Abyad to Ras al Ain.

That appeared to conflict with Turkey's insistence that its "safe zone" from which Kurdish forces must be removed should stretch the entire length of the border from the Euphrates River to Iraq. (AP)

9:30 P.M. The Kurds are "incredibly happy," Trump says

"I want to thank the Kurds," the president told reporters. "They were incredibly happy with this solution. This solution ... saved their lives frankly."

Some within the Kurdish leadership and Kurdish-aligned media are saying there hasn't been clear communications of the plan. Saudi Channel Al-Arabiya has Amjad Othman, spokesman of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the SDF, saying he was "unaware" of the agreement.

9:20 P.M. Sanctions no longer necessary, says Trump

Trump told reporters he would be taking sanctions and tariffs off "very quickly." He also confirmed that the plan for Turkey's Erdogan to visit Washington next month was back on the table. 

9:13 P.M. Trump defends "unconventional" deal-making

Tweeting after the press conference, Donald Trump said "this deal could NEVER have been made 3 days ago. There needed to be some “tough” love in order to get it done."

Talking to reporters during a visit to Fort Worth, Texas, the president also said this was a "great day for civilization," and "a great day for the U.S. and Turkey."

9:08 P.M. Russia to be involved in discussions over status of frontline city of Manbij

Turkish FM gives a nod to Russia's strategic interests in northeast Syria, hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would be willing to broker a cease-fire. 

9:01 P.M. Turkish FM says U.S. has agreed to Turkish control of safe zone

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is giving the Turkish point of view, which is expectedly subtly different.

"We are suspending the operation. This is not a cease-fire," the foreign minister, who was part of the negotiations, said, adding there could only be a cease-fire between legitimate sides.

"We can only halt the offensive when all terrorist elements completely withdraw from this area," he told a press conference.

The minister also said the U.S. has agreed to Turkish control of the safe zone, for the YPG heavy weaponry to be confiscated and the destruction of their military positions. 

8:52 P.M. YPG has agreed to withdraw, according to Pence

Challenged as to why the YPG would agree to this situation, Mike Pence says the U.S. has been in touch with the Kurdish leadership, and that he had received assurances the militia would comply. 

No concessions were made to Turkey, the vice president said - adding that this is an outcome that will "greatly serve the interest of Kurds in the region"

8:50 P.M. Strong relationship with the Kurds will remain, says Pence

Reporters also bring up concerns regarding the treatment of minorities, and Pompeo takes a moment to remind the fact that the Trump administration was listening to the concerns of Christian leaders worldwide. 

8:35 P.M. Turkey agrees to cease hostilities after talks with U.S. 

Pence says a temporary cease-fire was agreed, with military operations paused to allow withdrawal of YPG forces, which the U.S. has agreed to facilitate.

YPG will move within the next 120 hours, Pence says, from a demarcation line roughly 20 miles from the border with Turkey. 

There will be no Turkish attack on the city of Kobani, as Pence says Turkey, U.S. commit to the peaceful establishment of a safe zone. 

Pence reaffirmed the commitment to "mutual goal" of defeating ISIS (which Trump repeatedly said had already been defeated), in a bid to reassure international actors. 

8:30 P.M "Great talks!" says Trump

"Millions of lives will be saved," the embattled leader of the free world tweets

8:26 P.M. "We got exactly what we wanted," Turkish official says as marathon meeting ends 

A Turkish official boasts while we still wait for Pence and Pompeo to make a declaration.

7:40 P.M. Pence and Erdogan meeting still under way after four hours 

Pence's office said talks between the U.S. and Turkish delegations were continuing inside Turkey's presidency complex more than two hours past their scheduled conclusion. 

The one-on-one between the U.S. vice president and the Turkish president lasted around 90 minutes. 

Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are expected to give a press conference right after the end of the talks.

7:35 P.M. U.S. senators Lindsey Graham (Republican, South Carolina) and Chris Van Hollen (Democrat, Maryland) present Turkey sanctions bill 

"We believe that Erdogan's decision to go into Syria puts our allies at risk," the former Trump ally told a press briefing. "We believe that the rise of ISIS is imminent if this continues," he added.

7:17 P.M. New estimate puts northeast Syria toll at 224 SDF troops, 183 Turkish-backed rebels, 9 Turkish soldiers and 72 civilians

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday that, in the last eight days, the Turkish offensive had led to the death of 224 from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), 183 Turkish-backed rebels and 9 Turkish soldiers. 

The latest toll also includes 72 civilian deaths, including 3 children.

6:40 P.M. Russia, Iran say willing to "facilitate dialogue" in northern Syria

The Russian foreign ministry released a statement after minister Sergei Lavrov talked to his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif. 

6:16 P.M. U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell seeks stronger Syria resolution

McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor, said he would like to see "strong, forward-looking strategic statement" on Syria that would specify whether the U.S. should maintain a military presence in Syria and address the plights of the country's minority Sunni and Christian communities.

"My preference would be for something even stronger than the resolution the House passed yesterday, which has some serious weaknesses," said McConnell, criticizing the House measure as narrowly drafted and backward looking.

The House resolution, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, opposes Trump's decision to remove U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and calls on his administration to present a "clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS."

Fellow Republican House Representative Lindsey Graham is expected to introduce bipartisan legislation asking for tougher sanctions on Syria later today.

6:10 P.M. EU parliament president blasts Turkey

Speaking after end of day proceedings of the European Council summit, David Sassoli said the regional body should adopt tougher sanctions on Turkey, and suspend membership talks.

"We see this as an act of war, and we would like the operation to stop immediately," Sassoli told a press conference, saying it was time for Turkey to "heed the calls of the European Union."

5:06 P.M. The first pictures of the meeting between Pence and Erdogan have come out 

The pair looked almost cartoonishly tense and uncomfortable during the photo op. The meeting itself lasted about an hour and a half, with most commentators doubting the impact it could have - especially after Donald Trump himself dismissed the importance of the mission.

Pence's team reportedly told the media they had repeatedly asked for the press to be present at the meeting, but the Turks refused. 

4:33 P.M. Syria will answer Turkish invasion by any means necessary, Assad says

Syrian ruler says he will answer to Ankara's military incursion with any "legitimate means available." 

Speaking with Iraqi National Security Advisor Falih al-Fayyadh, who was on a visit to Damascus, Assad said the operation was a "criminal agression." 

Earlier, Iraq said it would take in Iraqi nationals held as prisoners in Syria for association with ISIS, while strongly condemning the Turkish operation.  

4:15 P.M. Erdogan aide meets with Russia's Syria envoy

Russia's envoy for Syria, Aleksander Lavrentiev, met with top Erdogan aide Ibrahim Kalin to discuss Turkey's ongoing incursion as well as the situation in Syria's northern Idlib Province, Turkey's state-run news agency Anadolu reports.

3:41 P.M. Meeting between Pence and Erdogan has started, Turkish presidency says

The two are meeting one-on-one, with U.S. special envoy for Syria Ambassador James Jeffrey serving as translator, before another meeting with the full delegation.

3:24 P.M. Aid agencies struggle in northeast Syria with water shortages

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Mercy Corps are all expressing concern about water shortages in Syria's northeast. 

The Alouk water station, which provides water to 400,000 in the city of Hasaka, was out of service after being damaged in fighting, U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said.

UNICEF was trucking water to shelters but the situation was a "critical concern", she said.

MSF has had to pull out of two camps holding people linked to ISIS, and report "massive concern about water" in the camp of Ain Issa, according to Robert Onus, MSF emergency manager for Syria. 

MSF and Mercy Corps have had to pull some foreign staff out of the region, with further concerns for public health, including the delivery of vaccines and other medical supplies.

2:46 P.M. Turkey says Russia promised to keep Kurdish militia away from border

Russia has promised Ankara that the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey's military is targeting, will not be in the Syrian territories across the border, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying.

Russia "promised that the PKK or YPG will not be on the other side of the border," Cavusoglu said in an interview with the BBC. "If Russia, accompanied by the Syrian army, removes YPG elements from the region, we will not oppose this."

Earlier on Thursday, Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman said Syria should get control over its border with Turkey as part of any settlement of the conflict in the region, as Turkey pressed on with its offensive into northeastern Syria.

2:13 P.M. Kremlin questions language of 'unusual' Trump letter to Erdogan 

The Kremlin says Russia's President Vladimir Putin will discuss humanitarian problems stemming from Turkey's military operation into northern Syria when he meets with his Turkish counterpart next Tuesday.

Putin expressed his concern over the "possible humanitarian consequences of this operation" during a recent telephone call with Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that he was surprised by the harsh tone used in by U.S. President Donald Trump in a recent letter to Erdogan, warning the Turkish leader not to be a "tough guy."

The Russian spokesman said: "Such language is not often encountered in communication of state leaders. It's a pretty unusual letter."

1:22 P.M. Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Ankara to meet with Turkish president

1:20 P.M. Russia says Syria should ultimately get control over border with Turkey

1:04 P.M. Kurdish-led health authority in northeast Syria says 218 civilians killed

A Turkish offensive in northeast Syria has killed 218 civilians, including 18 children since it started a week ago, the Kurdish-led administration in the region.

The fighting has also wounded more than 650 people, the statement from its health authority said.

12:14 P.M. Orban: Hungary would 'use force' to fend off refugees

Hungary would have to "use force" at its southern border with Serbia to protect the European Union's frontier if Turkey delivers on a threat to open the gates for refugees through the Balkans towards Europe, Hungary's prime minister said.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban built a steel fence on Hungary's border with Serbia to seal off the Balkans route of migration, where hundreds of thousands of people marched through from the Middle East to Western Europe at the peak of the crisis in 2015.

The EU relies on Turkey to curb the arrival of refugees into Europe following a 2016 agreement to seal off the Aegean route after more than 1 million people entered the bloc.

Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, threatened to "open the gates" to allow those already in the country to head for Europe if the EU portrayed Turkey's incursion into northeast Syria negatively... Read the full story here

11:24 A.M. Pence, Pompeo en route to Turkey

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will meet Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan at 11:45 GMT while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials are expected to hold talks with counterparts. A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, met National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien on Wednesday and said he conveyed Turkey's position.

On Wednesday, Trump said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a "successful meeting", but warned of sanctions and tariffs that "will be devastating to Turkey's economy" otherwise. Kalin said that Turkey's foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate to the U.S. sanctions.

11:17 A.M. Kurdish commander: Trump approved deal with Russia, Damascus

The commander of the Syrian Kurdish-led forces says U.S. President Donald Trump did not oppose a deal his group made with Russia and the Syrian government to protect against a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria.

Commander Mazloum Kobani told Ronahi, a Kurdish TV channel that Trump essentially gave the go-ahead for the deal. Kobani and Trump spoke by telephone Monday, a day after the Kurdish forces announced the agreement.

10:28 A.M. Merkel says Germany will not deliver any weapons to Turkey

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would not deliver any weapons to Turkey under current circumstances and added that she had urged Turkey several times to end its military operation in northern Syria.

"In recent days I have strongly urged Turkey ... to end its military operation against the Kurdish military and I'm stressing that again now," Merkel told Germany's lower house of parliament.

"It's a humanitarian drama with huge geopolitical effects so Germany will not deliver any weapons to Turkey under the current conditions," she added.

10:17 A.M. Trump's about-face in Syria forces Israel to rethink its Middle East strategy | Analysis 

8:39 A.M. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirms he will visit  Jerusalem on Thursday after Ankara

02.00 A.M. Assad forces enter Kobani

The seizure of Kobani by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad also pointed to a dramatic shift in northeastern Syria: The town was where the United States military and Kurdish fighters first united to defeat the Islamic State group four years ago and holds powerful symbolism for Syrian Kurds and their ambitions of self-rule... Read the full story here

00.42 A.M. White House releases Trump letter to Erdogan

In the letter, sent on October 9, Trump told Erdogan he wouldn't want to be responsible for "slaughtering thousands of people," and warned, "don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool!" Read the full letter here

Wednesday, 10:22 P.M. House of Representatives passes bipartisan resolution condemning Syria withdrawal, report says 

The House of Representatives approved a bipartisan resolution to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out American troops from Syria, the New York Times reported on Wednesday evening. 

Wednesday, 6:10 P.M. Trump has handed Turkey, Iran and Russia a poisoned victory in Syria | Opinion

Wednesday, 9:11 P.M. U.S.-led coalition says forces have left Syrian cities of Raqqa, Tabqah, Lafarge factory

The U.S.-led coalition said that its forces had left the Syrian cities of Tabqah and Raqqa as well as a Lafarge cement factory as part of the withdrawal from northeast Syria.

Wednesday, 6:11 P.M. Trump downplays Turkish offensive in Syria, says Kurds are 'not angels'

President Donald Trump played down the crisis in Syria touched off by Turkey's incursion against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, saying the conflict was between Turkey and Syria and that it was "fine" for Russia to help Damascus.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said imposing U.S. sanctions on Turkey would be better than fighting in the region and that it was up to the countries there to work it out.

The Kurds are "not angels," Trump said.

Wednesday, 5:04 P.M. Erdogan says Turkish offensive will end if Syrian Kurds leave border area

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey's military operation in Syria will end only if Syrian Kurdish fighters lay down their weapons and leave the border area.

The offensive can only cease if "all terrorists drop their weapons ... and leave the safe zone which we have determined as soon as tonight," Erdogan told members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament.

He was referring to a 444-kilometre-long buffer zone along Turkey's border with Syria up to Iraq, and 32 kilometres deep into Syrian territory.

Wednesday, 11:31 A.M. Russia says it will push for agreement between Syria, Kurds

Tuesday, 6:00 P.M. Assad troops make territorial gains in Manbij

Tuesday, 5:09 P.M. Special Haaretz report from Syria: Desperate Kurds see only enemies around them

QAMISHLI, Syria — It’s 9 P.M. and pitch black. On the M4 highway connecting the towns Tal Tamr and Qamishli, a checkpoint held by Kurdish forces is lit up like a Christmas tree. Cones on the asphalt lead in to the crossing. 

But this checkpoint is now vacant. A pickup truck rushes at full speed: The Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units, the YPG, vacate their positions. “We’re leaving, the regime is coming,” one of them whispers through the window.

This was the moment the country’s destiny was seemingly changed forever... Read the full story here

Tuesday, 4:52 P.M. Russia moves to buffer between Turkey and Assad troops in northern Syria

Russia moved to fill the void left by the United States in northern Syria, deploying troops Tuesday to keep apart advancing Syrian government and Turkish forces. 

Outside Manbij, Russian troops began patrolling front lines between Turkish and Syrian army positions to keep them separated, Russia's Defense Ministry said... Read the full story here 

>> Click here for older updates

Previous analyses and op-eds:

Trump's retreat from Syria is already changing the Mideast for worse, and Israel should beware

Kurdish leader: Trump just stuck a knife in the back of America's brothers-in-arms

Why Russia is the big winner from Trump's Syria pullback and Ukraine turmoil

What's driving Turkey’s Syrian fighters' brutal assault on the Kurds

Rojava: In the heart of Syria's darkness, a democratic, egalitarian and feminist society emerges