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ANKARA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A top Kurdish PKK rebel commander has urged Kurds living in Turkish cities to rise up and fight the authorities following Turkey’s land offensive into northern Iraq, the pro-PKK Firat news agency said on Sunday.
Ankara began sending thousands of ground troops across the mountainous border into northern Iraq on Thursday to crush PKK guerrillas who use the region as a base from which to attack targets inside Turkey.
"If they want to destroy us, our young people must make (Turkey‘s) cities uninhabitable," the agency quoted Bahoz Erdal, a senior PKK commander in northern Iraq, as saying.
"In the big cities, Kurdish youth must give their reply to the military operations. Kurdistan’s guerrillas are not just 7,000 or 10,000, they number hundreds of thousands. They are everywhere ... in all Turkish cities," Erdal said.
Just a couple of youths could, for example, set fire to hundreds of vehicles, he added.
Turkey’s impoverished, mainly Kurdish southeast has often seen violent pro-PKK protests, though the region has remained largely peaceful since Ankara began a campaign of aerial bombing against PKK targets inside Iraq late last year.
Some cities in western Turkey, including Istanbul and Izmir, are also home to large Kurdish populations.
"We are not against the Turkish people but such is the logic of war," Erdal said in his statement, drawing parallels with Iraqis’ resistance to occupying U.S. forces in their country.
The United States says Turkey, a NATO ally, has the right to defend itself against the rebels but has also called for the swift return of the Turkish ground troops once they have hit their PKK targets inside Iraq.
Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since the group launched its armed campaign in 1984 for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey.
Turkey, the United States and European Union classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation but previous Turkish military operations across the border into northern Iraq in the 1990s failed to wipe out the elusive and highly mobile guerrillas. (Reporting by Gareth Jones)