Turkish jets strike PKK in Iraq as conflict escalates
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Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq overnight, a security source told Reuters on Friday, the latest in a series of daily air strikes on the militants as the conflict escalates in southeast Turkey.
The news came a day after Turkish police stopped pro-Kurdish politicians on Thursday from marching to the town of Cizre where they say 21 civilians have been killed and a humanitarian crisis has unfolded since authorities imposed a curfew to combat PKK militants.
Hundreds of militants and security force members have died since the PKK and the Turkish state resumed hostilities after the collapse of a ceasefire in July, shattering a peace process launched in 2012 to end a three-decades-old conflict.
On Friday, more than 15 warplanes struck sites where the PKK are located at Qandil, Zap and Avashin in the mountains of northern Iraq in attacks launched shortly before midnight that continued until 5am, the source told Reuters.
Turkey has launched air attacks against targets from the Islamic State group in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq as advances by jihadists in those countries coincide with unrest in southeastern territories in Turkey.
In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, the largest in the mainly Kurdish southeast of the country, suspected PKK militants opened fire on a restaurant frequented by police in the main commercial district on Friday morning, wounding three police officers and one civilian, security sources said. One of the officers was seriously hurt.
Further south, near Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq, a round-the-clock curfew in Cizre entered its eighth day. The interior minister said that dozens of militants have been killed and only one civilian has died.
Like Turkey, the United States and European Union consider the PKK - which launched a separatist insurgency three decades ago - a terrorist organisation. But Turkey’s NATO allies have counselled caution on Ankara in dealing with the PKK, wary that escalating violence could undermine the stability of a key partner.
Lawmakers from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which draws most of its support from Kurds, say civilians in Cizre are in a dire situation, with the dead going unburied and food and water running short.
Some 30 HDP parliamentarians started a 90-km (55-mile) march on Wednesday towards Cizre after security forces halted their convoy, the party said.
The group, which returned to the nearby town of Idil after staging a brief sit-down protest, included members of an interim cabinet leading Turkey to a Nov. 1 election.
The HDP has accused President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK Party of using the bloodshed to whip up nationalist sentiment ahead of the vote. Both sides have questioned how a fair election can take place in such conditions.
HDP offices have been attacked, some set ablaze, by nationalist crowds this week.
“What is under way in Cizre, a blockade of the town and a seven-day curfew, is completely illegal,” said one of the HDP lawmakers, Saruhan Oluc. “This is a humanitarian crisis.”
The HDP said eight of 21 civilians who had died in Cizre had been killed since Wednesday night alone.
Unable to transport the dead, families were using deep freezers to preserve corpses, Cumhuriyet newspaper said.
HDP lawmaker Sibel Yigitalp, who was in the town, tweeted photographs of a blood-soaked dead mother and her crying infant.
“There is a serious shortage of food, water, access to basic health services, preventative treatment of the wounded, and burial of those who have been killed by state security forces,” the HDP said in a statement. Phone lines were also being cut and access blocked to the media, it said.
Interior Minister Selami Altinok said the politicians had been prevented from reaching Cizre for their own safety.
“We evaluated that their arrival in Cizre may cause provocative events, so it’s out of the question for them to go there,” he told a news conference.
Erdogan has repeatedly accused the HDP of militant links.
“If you take the side of terror you run the risk of paying the price,” he said on Wednesday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)