Over 100 Kurdish rebels have been killed in a huge offensive by the Turkish military in the country's southeast, with the death toll rising as the operation entered its sixth day. France 24 reported that at least two Turkish soldiers and five civilians were also killed in the clashes.
The major operations were carried out with 10,000 police, soldiers, armored tanks, and air support. Over the past few months, Turkey has imposed curfews on neighborhoods where the PKK has allegedly erected barricades, particularly southeastern Diyarbakir province. On Friday, Turkish forces carried out air strikes against alleged PKK weapons caches and hideouts in northern Iraq, and on Sunday protests erupted against the military operations in Istanbul and Diyarbakir, the largest city in the country's restive and mainly Kurdish southeast. Large crowds of protesters, estimated at about 600, gathered to demonstrate against the military operations. Police were called in and used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
This violence comes in the wake of renewed hostilities between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed rebel group. A two-and-a-half year ceasefire between the two sides broke down in July, giving new life to a war that has raged across the region for the last thirty years. The PKK first launched its insurgency fighting for an independent Kurdish state in 1984. Since that time, over 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict. In recent years the PKK has been pressing for greater autonomy and rights for the Kurds, Turkey's largest minority.
The offensive is by far the largest of its kind since the beginning of the ceasefire. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has continually vowed to wipe out the PKK, a group that the Turkish government and its allies, including the United States and the European Union, consider a terrorist organization.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gave a speech to the supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) where he vowed to eliminate the PKK's threat.
"We will not get tired," Davutoglu said. "We will fight day and night until all mountains, cities, districts and neighbourhoods of this country are cleansed of terror centres."
The fighting mainly took place in the predominantly Kurdish cities of Cizre and Silopi in Sirnak province and inside a neighbourhood in Diyarbakir. Conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state has continued in spite of the continued war against the Islamic State, in which the PKK plays an active role, as previously noted by Inquisitr.
Tanks deployed around the areas of fighting also shelled PKK targets inside the cities, particularly Cizre. Around 300 houses have been damaged as a result. An earlier estimate put the death toll at 70, with an army source quoted by Yahoo News claimed all the dead were suspected members of the PKK.
CNNquoted a source from the armed forces as saying that the operation aims "to neutralize the members of the separatist terrorist organization nesting in residential areas" as well as to "establish public order and security" and "enable civilians to resume normal living conditions."
Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group (ICG) is urging both sides to return to the peace talks that broke down almost six months ago.
"Turkey faces a critical choice: to advance its military strategy against the PKK in a fight that is bound to be protracted and inconclusive, or to resume peace talks."
While traditionally basing themselves in the countryside, in recent years the PKK had begun to recruit followers in urban areas and cities in order to bypass Turkish security forces. This offensive is part of a larger effort by Turkey to eliminate the Kurdish separatists. Turkey says the operation is necessary to combat against terrorism, while Kurdish politicians and activists have accused the military of atrocities and going to war with the entire Kurdish population.
[Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images]