ANKARA // Turkish warplanes pounded Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq on Wednesday in a new wave of strikes as part of its “antiterror” operation against militant groups.
It came as parliament held an emergency session to discuss the controversial operation that is inflaming tensions in Turkey.
Ankara is simultaneously fighting ISIL in Syria and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Iraq, in a campaign that began last week after a string of deadly attacks in Turkey blamed on the two starkly opposed groups.
However, reports of Turkish raids against ISIL have been less frequent than the repeated bombing of PKK targets.
The strikes were initially aimed at ISIL extremists but the focus rapidly expanded to include the bombing of PKK camps at their stronghold in the mountains of northern Iraq.
“Air operations were conducted throughout the night 28-29 July against the PKK terrorist group inside Turkey and outside,” said the prime minister’s office, listing six PKK locations in northern Iraq hit by the warplanes.
“The Turkish Republic will continue its rightful fight on legitimate grounds within the framework of national and international law, without succumbing to the threats of terrorist organisations.”
Massud Barzani, the president of northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, has expressed disquiet to Ankara over the air raids.
Turkey’s foreign ministry undersecretary, Feridun Sinirlioglu, was in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil on Wednesday for meetings with Iraqi Kurdish leaders, in a clear bid to calm tensions.
The pro-Kurdish opposition in Turkey has furiously accused oresident Recep Tayyip Erdogan of ordering the air strikes as revenge for its strong performance in June 7 general elections which cost the ruling party its overall majority and failed to produce a conclusive result.
Deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc told the emergency session of parliament that this was now the “last chance” for a peace process with the Kurdish militants.
“The peace process has been continuously used and abused by some sides,” he said.
The PKK has waged an insurgency for self-rule and greater rights in Turkey’s south-east since 1984. It has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
The two sides had appeared to be inching towards a final peace deal after a ceasefire was agreed in 2013. But the current fighting has left the prospects of a settlement as far off as ever.
The crisis erupted on July 20 when 32 people were killed in a suicide bombing blamed on ISIL extremists in the Turkish town of Suruc, close to the Syrian border.
Kurdish militants, who accuse Ankara of collaborating with ISIL, responded by murdering two Turkish police in their sleep and launching a string of deadly attacks against the country’s security forces in the mainly Kurdish south-east.
Mr Erdogan said on Tuesday that it was “not possible” to carry on with a peace process in the face of current attacks by the PKK.
But the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – which won 13 per cent of the vote in the June 7 elections – hit back, saying that Mr Erdogan simply wanted to trigger snap elections and score a political revenge over the party.
“Parliament could stop this war in 48 hours if it wanted,” HDP lawmaker Osman Baydemir told parliament on Wednesday.
In the latest unrest in the southeastern province of Mardin, police and protesters clashed around the town of Nusaybin on the Syrian border when PKK supporters blocked a road and threw Molotov cocktails at security forces, Turkish media reports said.
Meanwhile, in the eastern region of Agri, one soldier was killed and two wounded in a rocket attack on their armoured vehicle blamed on the PKK, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Turkish police are pressing on with nationwide raids against suspected ISIL, PKK and Marxist militants across the country, with at least 1,302 people arrested so far, according to the prime minister’s office.
Deputy prime minister Arinc revealed to parliament on Wednesday that the vast majority of those arrested had so far been PKK suspects, with 847 people detained over links to the group and 137 detained over links to ISIL.
* Agence France-Presse