ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish jets hit Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq overnight and the government said strikes would continue until the rebels lay down their arms, despite calls Wednesday by the pro-Kurdish opposition for an immediate end to the violence and the resumption of peace efforts.
Turkey’s air raids against the Kurdish rebels, which came at the same time as Turkey began cracking down on the Islamic State group, are reigniting a 30-year conflict with the insurgents and leave a two-year-old, fragile peace process in pieces.
The airstrikes on IS follow intense U.S. pressure on Turkey to more actively join a coalition against the extremists, but Turkey’s actions against the Kurdish rebel group pose a conundrum for U.S. President Barack Obama, who is relying heavily on the insurgents as allies in Syria.
In the latest raid, Turkish warplanes pounded about half a dozen positions belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a government statement said. Locations included the group’s mountainous stronghold in Qandil.
PKK spokesman Bakhtyar Dogan said the airstrikes lasted for three hours and caused “a lot of damage.” He had no casualty figures.
Turkish warplanes last week began striking IS targets in Syria in response to an IS suicide bombing in southern Turkey that left 32 people dead, and another IS attack on Turkish forces, which killed a soldier.
The PKK is affiliated with forces battling IS in Syria and Iraq. The Syrian Kurds have been among the most effective ground forces in the fight against IS and have been backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears a revival of the Kurdish insurgency in pursuit of an independent state.
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, called for the peace process to resume. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, however, rejected the call, saying that would not happen until the party distances itself from the rebels and the PKK withdraws its armed fighters from Turkey’s territory.
“We’ll respond to their call the day they can condemn PKK terrorism the way they condemn DAESH terrorism,” Davutoglu said, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group. “Until they do that they are guilty in our eyes and in the eyes of the people.”
Demirtas’ call came at the same time that a prosecutor demanded that the politician’s parliamentary immunity be lifted so that he can be prosecuted for insulting the ruling party.
Turkey and its western allies consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Since 2012, however, Turkey had been negotiating with the group’s imprisoned leader for a peaceful settlement of the 30-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.
The rebels have attacked a major oil pipeline from Iraq, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Wednesday, a day after they also attacked a gas pipeline from Iran. Yildiz said authorities immediately cut off the oil flow, minimizing the possible damage and loss.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said his council of ministers views the airstrikes in his country as “a dangerous escalation and a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.” Turkey’s NATO allies meeting in a rare emergency meeting at Turkey’s request proclaimed support for the country’s fight against IS. But a NATO official said members also used the closed-door meeting to call on Turkey not to use excessive force in reaction to terror attacks, while urging it to continue with peace efforts.
In a separate development Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said that an agreement allowing the U.S.-led coalition against the IS to launch airstrikes from Incirlik and other Turkish bases has been approved by Cabinet. Coalition forces could start using the bases “any moment,” Bilgic said.
Bilgic insisted that Incirlik’s use for possible operations in support of the Syrian Kurdish forces was “not part of the deal.”
Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, said Wednesday that 1,300 people have been rounded up so far in a major police crackdown on terror groups in Turkey, including 847 PKK suspects and 137 IS suspects.
Butler reported from Istanbul.
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