Middle East

Turkey pounds PKK, allows US to use base against ISIS

A missile-loaded Turkish Air Force warplane takes off from the Incirlik Air Base, in the outskirts of the city of Adana, southeastern Turkey, on July 28, 2015. AFP PHOTO/STR

ANKARA: Turkish warplanes Wednesday pounded targets of PKK rebels in northern Iraq in a new wave of strikes in its campaign against militant groups, as Ankara allowed the United States to use one of its bases to carry out air raids on jihadis.

Turkey is simultaneously fighting ISIS extremists in Syria and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in Iraq, in an "anti-terror" operation that began last week after a string of deadly attacks in the country blamed on the two starkly opposed groups.

With the controversial campaign inflaming tensions in Turkey after June 7 legislative elections failed to produce a conclusive result, parliament held an emergency session to discuss the operations.

The strikes were initially aimed at ISIS jihadis but the focus rapidly switched to include bombing of camps of PKK militants 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 in a statement, 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 organizations," the statement added.

Massud Barzani, the president of Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq, has expressed disquiet to Ankara over the air raids.

Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu was Wednesday in Irbil for meetings with Iraqi Kurdish leaders, a Foreign Ministry official said, in a clear bid to calm tensions.

The pro-Kurdish opposition has furiously accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of ordering the airstrikes as revenge for its strong performance in June 7 general elections which cost the ruling party its overall majority.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told the parliament's session 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," Arinc said.

The PKK has waged an insurgency for self rule and greater rights in Turkey's southeast since 1984 that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The parties appeared to be inching towards a final peace deal after a cease-fire was agreed in 2013. But the current fighting has left the prospects of a settlement as far off as ever.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said Tuesday before leaving on a trip to China that it was "not possible" to carry on with a peace process in the face of the current attacks by the PKK.

But the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which won 13 percent of the vote in the June 7 elections, hit back that 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 the parliament.

Reports of Turkish raids against ISIS have been less frequent than the repeated bombing of PKK targets, but Turkey said Wednesday the cabinet had given the green light for the U.S. to use a key air base for attacks against the jihadis.

The United States has long pushed for the use of the Incirlik base due to its location relatively close to Syria just outside the Turkish city of Adana but Turkey had hesitated for months.

"The cabinet has signed the decree," a Foreign Ministry official told AFP, without specifying when the authorization was given. "The (Incirlik) air base can be used (by the U.S. against ISIS) anytime."

The crisis erupted on July 20 when 32 people were killed in a suicide bombing blamed on ISIS jihadis in a town close to the Syrian border.

Kurdish militants, who accuse Ankara of collaborating with ISIS, 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 southeast.

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 the security forces, Turkish media reports said.

In the Agri region in eastern Turkey, one soldier was killed and two wounded in a rocket attack blamed on the PKK on their armored vehicle, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Meanwhile, Turkish police are pressing on with nationwide raids against suspected ISIS, PKK and Marxist militants across the country, with at least 1,302 people arrested so far, according to the prime minister's office.

Arinc revealed to parliament 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 ISIS.





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