By Seyhmus Cakan
Turkish tanks on Tuesday pounded Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in Cizre, a south-eastern town at the heart of a large-scale military operation by the government which the army said has killed 127 Kurdish militants in a week.
Black smoke rose from buildings in the town after shelling from hilltops, Reuters TV footage showed, and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said at least 23 civilians had been killed.
The fighting forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes in Sur, a historical district of the region’s largest city Diyarbakir under curfew for three weeks, CNN Turk said citing a report prepared by the opposition party.
Turkish security forces launched a new offensive in the mainly Kurdish region last week, backed by tanks and thousands of troops, as President Tayyip Erdogan pledged to root out militants.
The southeastern towns of Cizre and Silopi, bordering Iraq and Syria, have been the focus of the military campaign. Images on state media from Sur have shown Turkish troops patrolling in rubble-strewn streets among buildings riddled by bullet holes.
A two-year ceasefire between the PKK and Ankara fell apart in July, shattering peace talks and reviving a conflict that has afflicted the mainly Kurdish southeast for three decades, killing more than 40,000 people.
The PKK, which launched its insurgency in 1984, is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Traditionally rooted in the countryside, it has shifted its focus in recent years to southeastern towns, setting up barricades and digging trenches to keep security forces away.
Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the HDP, told a news conference the campaign was targeting locals who were presented as ‘terrorists’.
“We stand by our people who resist the tanks and shelling,” he said before leaving for Moscow on a visit criticised by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Turkey and Russia have been at odds since Ankara downed a Russian jet last month saying it violated its airspace.
‘TARGETS FOR BULLETS’
Many towns were under curfew and electricity was cut in many Silopi districts as transformers were damaged. Food and water was running scarce in some Diyarbakir districts, while shopkeepers kept shutters closed in protest at operations, residents said.
Ferhat Encu, an HDP lawmaker for Sirnak, said on Twitter that the bodies of those killed in clashes in Silopi were being kept in houses due to the curfew.
Islamist Kurdish party Huda-Par, usually sympathetic to the ruling AK Party, said security forces were taking position inside civilian houses including two party members, against the residents’ will, therefore making them a target.
“Due to the curfew our members and their families can not leave their house and move to safer place and therefore have become targets for bullets,” a party statement said. It added that entering people’s homes by force, whether by the state or the PKK, was trespassing and ‘unacceptable’.
On Tuesday, one Turkish soldier was killed in clashes in Bitlis, the army said, in an operation that killed two PKK militants.