Turkey has killed 260 Kurdish militants in a week-long air offensive on targets in northern Iraq, official media claimed on Saturday, as regional Iraqi authorities said it was time the rebels pulled out with concerns growing over civilian casualties.
Turkey said it had launched an investigation after pro-Kurdish media reports said nine civilians had been killed in a botched air strike, as the military pressed on with its relentless air bombardment campaign against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq.
Ankara has launched a two-pronged “anti-terror” offensive against Islamic State group in Syria and PKK militants based in northern Iraq after a wave of attacks inside Turkey.
So far the bombardments have focused far more on the Kurdish rebels and a report by Turkey’s official Anatolia news agency of 260 alleged PKK militants killed and up to 400 wounded was the first concrete indication of the scale of the casualties.
Turkish F-16 aircraft carried out more air strikes on Saturday morning, NTV television said.
On Friday, 28 Turkish F-16s destroyed 65 PKK targets, including shelters and arms depots, following heavy airstrikes the day before when 80 Turkish aircraft hit 100 PKK targets, Anatolia said.
“For the peace and security of our people, the fight against terror organizations will continue without interruption,” the office of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a statement.
Turkey’s Kurdish militants have sought cover in neighboring northern Iraq, where the presence of the PKK has long been tolerated in Iraq’s Kurdish-ruled region. More fighters also crossed into the area from Turkey as part of the 2013 ceasefire.
However, the PKK’s relations with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish authorities in Erbil have been beset by tensions, while Iraqi Kurds have expanded economic cooperation and relations with Turkey.
The office of Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani on Saturday said in a statement that the PKK rebels should move out of the region to prevent civilian casualties.
“The PKK must keep the battlefield away from the Kurdistan region in order for civilians not to become victims of this war,” it said.
The regional government issued a softer statement urging the PKK to keep its “forces ... away from populated areas.”
Iraqi Kurdish officials on Saturday said six people had been killed in a pre-dawn strike by Turkish warplanes on the village of Zarkel and there have been reports of civilian casualties.
The pro-PKK Firat news agency described the attack as a “massacre” that left at least nine civilians dead.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs promised a “full investigation” into the claims, but also accused the PKK of using civilians as “human shields.”
Anatolia said that among those wounded in the northern Iraq strikes was Nurettin Demirtas, the brother of the leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas.
Selahattin Demirtas openly acknowledged that his elder brother Nurettin had gone to Kandil Mountain in northern Iraq where the PKK’s military headquarters are based.
However, yesterday he said he could not confirm the Anatolia report, as Nurettin had moved on. He is “resisting the Islamic State on behalf of the people,” Selahattin Demirtas said, without giving further details.
The Turkish authorities have also been upping the pressure on the HDP, with prosecutors opening criminal investigations against both of its coleaders.
The HDP has angrily claimed that the current security crisis was provoked by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to call snap elections and avenge the ruling party’s disappointing performance in June 7 polls.
Demirtas on Sunday said that a legal adviser to Erdogan, Burhan Kuzu, was planning to close the party possibly “by the end of the year.”
“We will stop this fascist approach,” he said.
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