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Turkish Military: Rebels, Airstrikes Kill Nearly 70 Militants in Northern Syria


Family members weep in Cayiralan, Yozgat, Turkey, during funeral prayers for Turkish soldier Oktay Durak, Dec. 23, 2016. Durak was killed with 15 others by IS militants in al-Bab, Syria.

Turkey said Saturday that its warplanes had killed 68 Islamic State militants 20 kilometers northeast of Aleppo, Syria, as pitched battles raged in al-Bab between extremist fighters and rebels supported by Turkish forces.

A Turkish military spokesman said the overnight airstrikes, part of the Turkey-led Operation Euphrates Shield, had destroyed 141 IS targets, including a military headquarters, since Friday night.

The Turkish military supports the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group seeking to topple the Damascus government that also has laid siege to IS-held al-Bab for weeks. Turkey launched the operation nearly four months ago to push IS and Kurdish fighters away from its border with Syria.

Fighting around al-Bab intensified this week, with the Turkish army claiming it had killed nearly 140 jihadists on Wednesday alone. Analysts said it was the single deadliest day of fighting since Turkey launched its Syrian incursion in late August, following an IS-linked suicide bombing that killed more than 50 people August 20 in Gaziantep, Turkey.

Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik on Thursday told parliament that a nearly 2,000-square-kilometer area near al-Bab had been cleared of IS fighters and more than 1,000 extremists had been killed in northern Syria since the incursion began.

Isik later said authorities also had information that IS fighters recently captured three Turkish soldiers near al-Bab, but he offered no further information.

A short while later, Islamic State released a grisly video, accompanied by chanting, that purported to show two captured Turkish soldiers being burned to death.

Separately on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia, Iran, Turkey and the embattled Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad had agreed to hold talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, to resolve the nearly six-year Syrian conflict. No details were released.

Putin's comments came a day after Assad's government announced it had seized full control of Aleppo, including the city's eastern sector, which had been under rebel control since 2012.

VOA's Kurdish service and Dorian Jones contributed to this report.

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