September 14, 2012 / 10:35 AM / 5 years ago

Turkish jets, soldiers pound Kurdish rebel bases

* Fighter jets scramble as offensive continues

* Top military commanders oversee operation

* Deadliest clashes for more than a decade

By Seyhmus Cakan

DIYARBAKIR, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Turkish armed forces have killed 75 Kurdish militants near the border with Iran and Iraq over the past week, a provincial governor said on Friday, as a major offensive involving air strikes and several thousand ground troops intensifies.

Eight F-16 fighter jets took off from an air base in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Friday, a Reuters witness said, apparently to support the operation against militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“Anti-terror operations are continuing in the region,” the governor’s office in the southeastern province of Hakkari said in a statement. It said 75 militants and four Turkish soldiers had been killed since last Saturday.

The past few months have seen some of the heaviest fighting since the PKK - considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union - took up arms in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state.

More than 700 people have been killed since parliamentary elections in June last year, making this the deadliest period since the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report this month.

Turkey’s chief of staff, the head of its land forces and its air force commander travelled to the town of Semdinli in Hakkari to oversee the latest offensive, the military said late on Thursday.

It said seven battalions were involved. Turkish battalions typically comprise up to 1,000 soldiers.

Fighter jets and attack helicopters were targeting PKK camps in two villages in the Kazan valley in Cukurca, a district of Hakkari province on the Iraqi border, where around 250 militants are thought to be based, security sources told Reuters.

The 28-year-old conflict has killed more than 40,000 people, hampered economic development in one of Turkey’s poorest corners, and added to instability in an already fragile region bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Turkey has stepped up air strikes on suspected PKK rebels in northern Iraq over the past year and the raids have fuelled tensions between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Ankara also sees the hand of Damascus in the PKK’s new found energy, accusing it of arming the rebels and allowing a PKK-linked party to control parts of Syria to prevent locals joining the 18-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey has raised the possibility of military intervention in Syria if the PKK were to launch attacks from Syrian soil and has conducted military exercises on the border in a clear warning to Damascus.

In its report, the ICG urged Ankara to resist waging an all-out military offensive, saying that both Kurds - who make up around a fifth of the country’s 75 million people - and Turks increasingly concede military action will not solve the problem.

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