Turkey: Syria border region must be 'cleansed' of ISIS extremists

Turkey was long accused of turning a blind eye to or even abetting the rise of ISIS in Syria

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Turkey said on Monday ISIS extremists must be totally pushed out of the Syrian border region, after a weekend suicide bombing in the city of Gaziantep blamed on the group left at least 54 dead.

"Our border must be completely cleansed from ISIS," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in televised remarks, using an Arabic acronym for the IS group.

"It is our most natural right to fight at home and abroad against such a terrorist organization."

A child suicide bomber, aged "between 12 and 14," is suspected of carrying out the attack in the southeastern city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border late on Saturday on the orders of IS jihadists, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cavusoglu said Monday Turkey has already taken an "active" role in the fight against IS, allowing coalition forces to use a key base in the southern part of the country for air raids on the extremist group.

Quoting security sources, some Turkish media reported earlier the Gaziantep attack could have been retaliation by ISIS for an operation carried out by Ankara-backed opposition rebels against the exremists in Jarablus in northern Syria.

Asked if the government supported the operation, Cavusoglu said: "We can back anyone, especially the moderate opposition fighting against ISIS on the ground."

"We will fight ISIS to the end and continue to support countries and forces fighting them," he added, without giving further details.

Cavusoglu said Turkey was a "prime target of ISIS" because the government had dried up the group's resources of foreign terrorist fighters, placing an entry ban on 55,000 members and deporting around 4,000 suspects. "In this sense we have dealt the biggest blow to ISIS," he said.

The foreign minister said Turkey and Erdogan played a key role in defeating the ideology of ISIS, adding: "Therefore, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is their number-one target."

Turkey was long accused of turning a blind eye to or even abetting the rise of ISIS in Syria, claims it vehemently denies.

However Western states say Ankara has begun to move strongly against the group and seal its borders to extremists traffic after the attacks blamed on ISISon its soil this year.

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