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Turkey identifies 13 more dead from bomb blast in Kurdish village, clashes flare

SARIKAMIS, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish authorities have identified the remains of 13 people from two families killed after a truck carrying more than 15 tonnes of explosives blew up last week in a village in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

People gather at the site of last night's explosion near the Kurdish-dominated southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey May 13, 2016. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

That raised the death toll to 16 from the May 12 blast in Sarikamis outside the city of Diyarbakir. Violence has gripped the region since a conflict between Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants and state security forces reignited last year.

Clashes between the PKK and military flared elsewhere with 26 militants killed around the southeast, the military said, and seven members of the security forces wounded in the town of Nusaybin at the Syrian border, security sources said.

Turkish jets on Monday also bombed PKK targets in the mountains of northern Iraq, where the group is based, the military said in a statement.

The force of the explosion in Sarikamis was so great that the bodies of victims were largely destroyed, and authorities had to run DNA tests on body parts and match them with relatives to determine their identity, according to local officials.

The 13 victims in the village of 200 people were initially described as missing, they said, while another 23 people were wounded in the blast.

“This was a massacre, an attack against all of Turkey,” said Interior Minister Efkan Ala, who attended their funerals in Sarikamis on Tuesday. Women cried as men lined up for prayers during the funeral services.

“We condemn terrorism!” one group shouted.

Turkey, the United States and the European Union all classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but it retains grassroots support in the region.

The autonomy-seeking PKK abandoned a two-year ceasefire in July 2015 and resumed its fight against the Turkish state, which began in 1984 and has claimed 40,000 lives, mainly Kurdish.

Since July, hundreds of police, soldiers and militants have been killed. Opposition political parties estimate that between 500 and 1,000 civilians have also died.

Turkey faces criticism from the European Union and United Nations for the severity of its crackdown on the PKK and the loss of civilian life.

The blast in Sarikamis occurred after PKK fighters packed a stolen truck with explosives, hoping to store the vehicle for future attacks in the village, security sources said.

It was not immediately clear what set off the explosion. Officials initially said the truck exploded as militants loaded it and that they intended to use it to attack security forces.

Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by David Dolan and Mark Heinrich