Rebel fighters rest inside a safehouse on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria February 8, 2017. (REUTERS Photo)
ANKARA, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Turkish officials said on Thursday that Turkey's troops and allies had completely surrounded the key Syrian city al-Bab and were conducting a clean-up operation against Islamic State (IS) militants, local media reported on Friday.
"Al-Bab is totally encircled at the moment. A serious cleaning operation is being done inside the city," Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik told reporters on the sidelines of the NATO Defense Ministers' meeting in Brussels, the Hurriyet daily reported.
"There is a very intense operation to clear al-Bab's city center of IS elements. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Turkish Armed Forces have been conducting (operations) together," Isik said.
Hulusi Akar, Turkey's chief of the general staff, also confirmed the news.
Akar said the al-Bab operation was over and cleansing efforts were underway in the region, Daily Sabah reported.
On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said al-Bab were largely under the control of the FSA.
"Al-Bab has been largely taken under control. Our aim is to prevent corridors opening to Turkey from territories where terrorists are swarming," Daily Sabah quoted Yildirim as saying at a Justice and Development Party meeting in parliament.
Turkey's army launched Euphrates Shield operation on Aug. 24, 2016, in order to clear its border of terrorist organizations including the IS and Kurdish militants: the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People's Protection Unit (YPG).
In early December, the operation started to focus on al-Bab, where Turkish troops and the FSA have faced strong resistance.
Ankara says it sees Syria's Manbij and Raqqa, the claimed capital of IS, as its top two priorities once al-Bab is liberated.
Turkey has repeatedly vowed to prevent the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, EU and Turkey, or its Syrian affiliates PYD and YPG, from establishing a corridor of terror on Turkey's doorstep.