Turkey, Responding to Attack, Launches Airstrikes on Kurdish Rebels

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ISTANBUL — The Turkish military carried out airstrikes on Monday against Kurdish insurgents, a day after what appeared to be the deadliest assault since the breakdown in July of a fragile peace process with the Turkish state.

The death toll from Sunday’s attack was not immediately clear. The military put the figure at 16, with six more wounded, but a website close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., said that 31 soldiers had been killed. Turkish fighter jets struck 13 targets in retaliation, the military said.

The clashes signaled an escalation in violence in Turkey’s southeast, where Kurdish militants have resumed an insurgency against the Turkish state that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives over three decades.

On Monday, the military said it had launched airstrikes on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in response to the ambush by militants in the Daglica area of Hakkari Province, close to the Iraqi border. There were no immediate reports of deaths.
The airstrikes came after two armored vehicles suffered heavy damage on Sunday from handmade explosives, the military said in a statement, which noted “martyrs and wounded among our heroic armed comrades.”
Government officials said that more than 70 members of the Turkish security forces had been killed since the end of a cease-fire in July. In response to the daily attacks by the Kurdish militants, Turkish officials have called on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party leadership to reinstate the cease-fire and withdraw from Turkey as a first step toward disarmament.

In 2013, Turkey reached a historic settlement with the Kurdish militias, vowing to grant the Kurdish minority greater rights and autonomy in exchange for the cease-fire, which brought peace and stability to the volatile southeast.

Elections are scheduled for Nov. 1, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s Justice and Development Party hoping to regain the majority it lost in the June 7 election. Opponents say that the government’s decision to resume extensive military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is driven at least in part by a calculated strategy by the Justice and Development Party to recapture the nationalist vote.

Commenting on the unrest in a television interview on Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the situation would be different if Turks had voted for 400 lawmakers from a single party in the June election, referring to the number of seats the Justice and Development Party would need to secure an absolute majority to change the Constitution.

He vowed that Turkey would continue its military operations against the Kurdish militants “until the end.” He said 2,000 militants had been killed so far.

After the attack on Sunday, Mr. Davutoglu left early from a soccer match between Turkey and the Netherlands in the city of Konya and returned to Ankara to convene an emergency security meeting, indicating the gravity of the attack. No statements were made.

On Monday, Mr. Erdogan said the attack was aimed at breaking up the country’s unity.

“I believe that the Turkish nation will maintain a united and determined stance against attacks that aim to damage peace, security and stability of the country,” he said in a written statement. “The pain of our security forces who were martyred in the treacherous attack by the separatist terrorist organization sears our hearts.”

Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party, whose success in the June election stripped the Justice and Development Party of its majority, condemned the attack and the government’s policy toward the Kurds.

“As killing has no justification; leading our people to death has no justification either,” he said on Twitter. “Death knells that upset us cannot be our destiny.”

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