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ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday vowed to protect Turkey’s southern border with a “safe zone” in Syria after Ankara launched a barrage of air strikes against Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan has long sought to build a “safe zone” with a depth of 30 kilometres (19 miles) inside Syria and repeatedly threatened this year to start a new military operation to achieve this goal.

Turkey’s military has conducted three offensives against Kurdish fighters and jihadists since 2016 and already captured territory in northern Syria, held by Ankara-backed Syrian proxies.

“With the security (zone) we are establishing on the other side of our border, we are also protecting the rights of millions of women and children,” Erdogan said during a televised speech to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

“God willing we will complete this (zone) along the border from the west to the east as soon as possible,” he added.

Following a bombing in Istanbul on November 13 that killed six people and injured 81, Turkey launched a series of air strikes across parts of Iraq and Syria on Sunday, targeting Kurdish groups.

Turkey blamed the bombing on the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is designated a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.

PM Shehbaz urges Pak-Turkish collaboration in alternate energy

Kurdish groups deny any involvement in the Istanbul attack.

Turkey says the Kurdish YPG militia is allied with the PKK, which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Turkey launched raids Friday on Hasakeh in northeast Syria, held by the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), now the Kurds’ de facto army.

Erdogan wants the “safe zone” to include the Syrian Kurdish border city of Kobane, also known as Ayn al-Arab, which was captured by Kurdish YPG forces from jihadists in 2015 with the support of the United States.

Russia and the United States have, however, called for de-escalation.

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