Middle East

Turkish jets strike Kurds in Iraq, ISIS in Syria

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gives a statement on the situation with ISIS and other militant groups during a press conference after his visit at the Turkish Council of State in Ankara on July 24, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN

ANKARA: Turkish jets struck camps belonging to Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, authorities said Saturday, the first strikes since a peace deal was announced in 2013, and again bombed ISIS positions in Syria.

The strikes in Iraq targeted the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, whose affiliates have been effective in battling ISIS. The strikes further complicate the U.S.-led war against the extremists, which has relied on Kurdish ground forces making gains in Iraq and Syria.

A spokesman in Iraq for the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for autonomy since 1984 and is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and its allies, said the strikes likely spelled the end of the peace process.

"Turkey has basically ended the cease-fire," Zagros Hiwa told The Associated Press. He said the first wave of strikes launched overnight Saturday didn't appear to cause casualties.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced a few hours later that he had ordered "a third wave" of raids against ISIS in Syria and a "second wave" of strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq - which were ongoing.

"Turkey's operations will, if needed, continue until the terror organizations' command centers, all locations where they plan [attacks] against Turkey and all depots used to store arms to be used against Turkey are destroyed," Davutoglu said.

He accused the PKK of not keeping a pledge to withdraw armed fighters from Turkish territory and to disarm.

The government statement earlier said the first strikes targeted seven areas including the Qandil mountains, where the PKK's command is based. The statement did not detail ISIS targets but described the airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq as being "effective."

Hiwa said the jets struck villages on Qandil although the PKK base was not hit.

Turkey's military also shelled ISIS and PKK positions in Syria from across the Turkish border, the government said. It vowed to press ahead with operations against the PKK and IS, saying it was "determined to take all steps to ensure peace and security for our people."

Turkish police meanwhile proceeded with a major operation against ISIS, the PKK and the far-left DHKP-C for a second day. Close to 600 people were detained in raids in 22 provinces, Davutoglu said.

Tensions flared with Kurds after an ISIS suicide bombing in the southeastern Turkish city of Suruc Monday killed 32 people. Kurdish groups held the Turkish government responsible, saying it had not been aggressive in battling ISIS.

On Wednesday, the PKK claimed responsibility for killing two Turkish police officers near the Kurdish majority city of Sanliurfa, near the Syrian border.

In other attacks, seven police officers were wounded after suspected PKK militants hurled a small bomb at a police station in Bismil, near the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, the Dogan news agency reported Friday. Another small bomb was thrown at officers in a police vehicle in Semdinli, near the border with Iraq, the agency said.

On Friday, Turkey announced that it was allowing its air bases to be used by the U.S.-led coalition forces for operations against ISIS.

Turkey had been reluctant to join U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State group. It had long insisted that coalition operations should also target Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, which Ankara blames for all ills in Syria, and it also pressed for the establishment of a no-fly zone inside Syria, along the Turkish border.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu Saturday did not confirm Turkish news reports that claimed that the United States and Turkey had agreed to establish a secure area in Syria, saying safe zones would be automatically formed in Iraq and Syria once the ISIS threat disappears.

"At the end of this efficient fight against ISIS, areas that have been cleared of ISIS [militants] will become safe zones," Cavusoglu said.

On Friday, three F-16 jets struck ISIS targets that included two command centers and a gathering point near the Turkish border in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine Islamic State militants were killed in the raids. The extremists have yet to comment on the strikes.

The Syrian government has so far refrained from commenting on Turkish strikes inside Syrian territory, but Syria's main political opposition group, which is backed by Ankara, welcomed Turkey's move.

 

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