The Turkish army has blamed PKK militants for a deadly car bomb attack that killed two of its soldiers in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, as a fragile truce risked collapsing after Ankara’s air strikes on rebel positions in Iraq.
Turkey has launched a two-pronged “anti-terror” cross-border offensive against Islamic State jihadists and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants after a wave of violence in the country, pounding their positions with air strikes and artillery.
But the expansion of the campaign to include not just IS targets in Syria but PKK rebels in neighbouring northern Iraq – themselves bitterly opposed to the jihadists – has put in jeopardy a truce with the Kurdish militants that has largely held since 2013.
The PKK said on Saturday the conditions were no longer in place to observe the ceasefire, following the heaviest Turkish air strikes on its positions in northern Iraq since August 2011.
The car bomb went off as the soldiers were travelling in the Lice district of Diyarbakir province late on Saturday, the statement from the local governor’s office said.
“Two of our personnel were killed in the heinous attack, four were wounded,” it said.
The army blamed the “Separatist Terror Organisation” for the attack, using its customary phrase for the PKK, which it never refers to by name.
It said the victims had been lured to the site of the attack after the PKK set three vehicles on fire on the road linking the cities of Diyarbakir and Bingol. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The PKK has waged a deadly insurgency in the southeast of Turkey for self-rule for decades, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. A peace process that began in 2013 has so far failed to yield a final deal.
Turkish armed forces pressed on with a new wave of strikes against IS and PKK targets on Saturday, but there were no reports of new air raids overnight.
The military wing of the PKK said in a statement that one PKK fighter in northern Iraq – named as Onder Aslan – was killed in air strikes overnight on Friday and three others wounded.
With Washington gladdened by Turkey’s readiness to step up its role in the coalition against IS, the White House backed Turkey’s right to bomb the PKK.
“Turkey has a right to take action related to terrorist targets,” said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, noting that the US categorises the PKK as terrorist group.
The violence has fanned fears that the conflict in Syria’s civil war between IS and Kurdish militias allied to the PKK is spilling into Turkish territory.