September 11, 2015 / 6:23 AM / 2 years ago

Urban killings, air strikes as bloodshed worsens in Turkish southeast

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Kurdish militants shot dead a waiter and wounded three police officers in a restaurant in southeast Turkey on Friday, as the region descended further into the worst bloodshed it has seen since the 1990s.

A Turkish Air Force F-4E fighter flies over a minaret after taking off from Incirlik air base in Adana, Turkey, August 12, 2015. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Turkish jets bombed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq for a fifth straight night, while the leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition accused security forces of a shoot-to-kill policy in another town, Cizre.

Amidst a largely bleak security picture and despite a bomb blast targeting security forces, a Turkish official said on Friday that a controversial 8-day round-the-clock curfew in Cizre would be lifted on Saturday morning.

Hundreds of militants and members of the security forces have died since hostilities resumed between the PKK and the state after the collapse of a ceasefire in July, shattering a peace process launched in 2012 to end a three-decade conflict.

The government resumed air strikes against the PKK two months ago in response to what it described as a sharp escalation in attacks on the security forces and shootings in urban centers. President Tayyip Erdogan has promised the fight will go on until “not one terrorist is left”.

“If this war were to last another 100 years, the PKK would still be there and the Turkish army would still be there,” Selahattin Demirtas, head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said in a speech at a party meeting.

“Fingers should be taken off the trigger. The guns must fall silent to allow for conditions to resume negotiations.”

The PKK, deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, began an insurgency in 1984 that has killed 40,000. Breakdown of the ceasefire coincides with worsening conflict in neighboring Syria and Iraq and the rise of Islamic State, which has been blamed for a July bombing in Turkey that killed 30.

More than 15 planes struck PKK targets in Qandil, Zap and Avashin in the mountains of northern Iraq for five hours early on Friday, one security source said.

At least 60 PKK fighters were killed in the air strikes by F-16 and F-4 jets which hit 64 targets in the group’s camps across the region, broadcaster NTV and other Turkish media reported, citing security sources. The figures could not immediately be confirmed.

WAITER SHOT WHILE TENDING TABLE OF POLICEMEN

In the restaurant attack in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the mainly Kurdish southeast, a waiter was shot in the head as he served bread to a table of police officers, one of whom was critically wounded, other security sources said.

The 22-year-old waiter had returned from compulsory military service two months ago, the sources said.

Further south, the decision to lift the Cizre curfew came despite tensions persisting in the town of 100,000, with five members of the security forces wounded by a bomb blast on Friday.

Authorities have been facing mounting pressure to open access to the town and allow investigations into claims of disproportionate force used by security services.

Pro-Kurdish politicians say 21 civilians have been killed and a humanitarian crisis has unfolded, with the dead going unburied and food and water running short.

Demirtas said special forces, acting on the local governor’s orders, had been shooting anyone venturing out on the street.

“Kurds are getting the death penalty,” he said.

The interior minister said on Thursday that only one civilian had died in Cizre and that military operations there had killed dozens of militants. A group of HDP lawmakers was denied access to the town on Thursday.

Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, demanded immediate access for observers to assess the situation, whilst Amnesty International said in a statement it was extremely concerned by the impacts of the curfew.

State authorities had also imposed an overnight curfew in the town of Yuksekova near the Iranian border due to what they said was increased militant activity.

Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Writing by Daren Butler and Jonny Hogg; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton

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