North Iraq urges PKK to leave as Turkish strike toll mounts
Syrian Kurdish militia members of YPG make a V-sign next to poster of Abdullah Ocalan, jailed Kurdish rebel leader, and a Turkish army tank in the background in Esme village in Aleppo.
Istanbul - The office of the region's president Massud Barzani said PKK rebels should move out of the region to prevent civilian casualties.
Turkey has killed 260 Kurdish militants in a week-long air offensive on targets in northern Iraq, official media claimed on Saturday, as regional Iraqi authorities said it was time the rebels pulled out due to growing concern over the civilian toll.
Ankara has launched a two-pronged "anti-terror" offensive against Daesh in Syria and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after a wave of attacks inside the country.
But so far the bombardments have focused far more on the Kurdish rebels and a report by the official Anatolia agency of 260 alleged PKK militants killed was the first concrete indication of the scale of the casualties.
In the latest air strikes on Friday, 28 Turkish F-16s destroyed 65 targets of the PKK including shelters and arms depots, Anatolia said.
The heaviest air strikes were on Thursday, when 80 Turkish aircraft hit 100 targets of the PKK, Anatolia added.
Without citing its sources, Anatolia said that among those wounded was Nurettin Demirtas, the brother of the leader of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas.
"Up until now 260 terrorists have been rendered ineffective (killed) and 380-400 terrorists have been identified as injured," Anatolia said.
Demirtas openly acknowledges that his elder brother Nurettin had gone to the Kandil Mountain in northern Iraq where the PKK's military headquarters are based.
But he said on Sunday he could not confirm the Anatolia report as Nurettin was no longer at Kandil Mountain. He is "resisting Daesh on behalf of the people," said Demirtas, without giving further details.
The PKK's insurgency for greater rights and powers for Turkey's Kurdish minority, begun more than 30 years ago, has left tens of thousands dead. The current violence has shattered a ceasefire declared in 2013.
The presence of the PKK has long been tolerated in Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq and more fighters also crossed into the area from Turkey as part of the 2013 ceasefire.
Yet the PKK's relations with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish authorities in Irbil have been beset by tensions, while Iraqi Kurds have expanded economic cooperation and relations with Turkey.
The office of the region's president Massud Barzani said in a statement on Saturday that the PKK rebels should move out of the region to prevent civilian casualties.
"The PKK must keep the battlefield away from the Kurdistan region in order for civilians not to become victims of this war," it said.
Iraqi Kurdish officials said on Saturday six people had been killed in a pre-dawn strike by Turkish war planes on the village of Zarkel and there have been reports of civilian casualties.
Kifah Mahmud, a Barzani adviser, said that "if the PKK did not have bases inside the region, Turkey would not be bombing civilians," he said.
A dozen police and soldiers have been killed in Turkey in attacks blamed on the PKK in the last 10 days and there was no-let up in the violence in the last 24 hours.
A Turkish soldier was killed on Saturday in a mine attack in the Kars region of northeastern Turkey, NTV television reported.
In the Catak district of the Van region in the east of Turkey, two suspected PKK members were killed overnight when they tried to attack the local police headquarters, Anatolia said.
Three suspected PKK members were killed in the eastern Agri province in clashes on Friday evening that erupted when police launched an arrest operation, Anatolia said.
Meanwhile, suspected PKK militants held up some 70 passengers on a bus travelling in northeastern Turkey but released them two hours later, media said.
The Turkish authorities have also been upping the pressure on the HDP with prosecutors opening criminal investigations against both its co-leaders.
The HDP has angrily claimed that the current security crisis was provoked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to call snap elections and avenge the ruling party's disappointing performance in June 7 polls.
Demirtas said on Sunday that a legal advisor to Erdogan, Burhan Kuzu, was planning to close the party possibly "by the end of the year".
"We will stop this fascist approach," he said.