Turkey will not stop until whole border region is cleared from ISIL, Turkish president says, as troops enter Al Bab.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the final goal of a Turkish incursion into northern Syria is to cleanse the border region from ISIL, including Raqqa, the armed-group's self-declared capital in the country.
Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies had entered the centre of the ISIL bastion Al Bab, Erdogan said on Sunday, adding that its capture was just a "matter of time".
"The ultimate goal is to cleanse a 5,000-square-km area," Erdogan told a news conference before his departure on an official visit to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
"Al Bab is now besieged from all fronts ... Our forces entered the centre" with Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, Erdogan told journalists.
The Turkish army launched a campaign inside Syria on August 24, codenamed Euphrates Shield, to clean its border from ISIL fighters and stop the advance of Kurdish militia, seen by Turkey as a "terrorist" hostile force.
Erdogan said Turkish forces had no intention of staying in Syria once the area had been cleared of both ISIL and Kurdish YPG fighters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said rebels backed by heavy Turkish air strikes fought ISIL north and southwest of Al Bab on Sunday.
Turkish forces have advanced into the city from the west in recent days, and now control around 10 percent of the city and all of its western suburbs, the Observatory said.
The clashes in Al Bab have proved the toughest so far, with Turkish military fatalities increasing.
One Turkish soldier was killed and three others wounded in clashes with fighters on Sunday, the private Dogan news agency reported, citing military sources.
The latest casualty raised the number of Turkish troops killed in the Syria offensive to 67.
The three injured troops were evacuated from Al Bab and taken to hospitals in Turkey's Kilis and Gaziantep provinces near the Syrian border, Dogan reported.
Al Bab is ISIL's last stronghold in the northern province of Aleppo and is also being targeted by regime forces.
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|Allen L. Jasson|