Murad Sezer / Reuters

Turkey launches airstrikes against Kurds in Iraq, ISIL in Syria

Ankara's targeting of Kurds complicates US-led war on ISIL, which relies on Kurdish forces battling the armed group

Turkish jets struck camps belonging to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, authorities said Saturday, the first strikes since a peace deal was announced in 2013, and again bombed ISIL positions in Syria.

The strikes in Iraq targeted the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, whose affiliates have been effective in battling the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The strikes further complicate the U.S.-led war against the armed group, which has relied on Kurdish ground forces making gains in Iraq and Syria.

A spokesman in Iraq for the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for autonomy since 1984 and is considered a “terrorist organization” by Ankara and its allies, said the strikes likely spelled the end of the peace process.

"Turkey has basically ended the cease-fire," Zagros Hiwa said, adding that the first wave of strikes launched overnight Saturday didn't appear to cause casualties.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced a few hours later that he had ordered "a third wave" of raids against ISIL in Syria and a "second wave" of strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq — which were ongoing.

"Turkey's operations will, if needed, continue until the terror organizations' command centers, all locations where they plan [attacks] against Turkey and all depots used to store arms to be used against Turkey are destroyed," Davutoglu said.

He accused the PKK of not keeping a pledge to withdraw armed fighters from Turkish territory and to disarm.

In a telephone conversation with Davutoglu on Saturday, Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), condemned the airstrikes and urged Turkey to not escalate the situation.

"He requested that the issue not be escalated to that level because peace is the only way to solve problems and years of negotiations are better than one hour of war," a KRG statement said.

"Mr Barzani is ready to do anything within his means to assuage this tension and go back to a situation of peace."

In a statement issued earlier Saturday, Turkey said the first strikes targeted seven areas including the Qandil Mountains, where the PKK's command is based. The statement did not detail ISIL targets but described the airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq as "effective."

Hiwa said the jets struck villages on Qandil although the PKK base was not hit.

Turkey's military also shelled ISIL and PKK positions in Syria from across the Turkish border, the government said. It vowed to press ahead with operations against the PKK and ISIL, saying it was "determined to take all steps to ensure peace and security for our people."

Turkish police meanwhile proceeded with a major operation against ISIL, the PKK and the far-left DHKP-C for a second day. Close to 600 people were detained in raids in 22 Turkish provinces, Davutoglu said.

Tensions flared with Kurds after an ISIL suicide bombing in the southeastern Turkish city of Suruc on Monday killed 32 people. Kurdish groups held the Turkish government responsible, saying it had not been aggressive in battling ISIL.

On Wednesday, the PKK claimed responsibility for killing two Turkish police officers near the Kurdish majority city of Sanliurfa, near the Syrian border.

In other attacks, seven police officers were wounded after suspected PKK fighters hurled a small bomb at a police station in Bismil, near the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, the Dogan news agency reported Friday. Another small bomb was thrown at officers in a police vehicle in Semdinli, near the border with Iraq, the agency said.

On Friday, Turkey announced that it was allowing its air bases to be used by the U.S.-led coalition forces for operations against ISIL.

Turkey had been reluctant to join U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against ISIL. It had long insisted that coalition operations should also target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which Ankara blames for all ills in Syria, and it also pressed for the establishment of a no-fly zone inside Syria, along the Turkish border.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Saturday did not confirm Turkish news reports that claimed the United States and Turkey had agreed to establish a secure area in Syria, saying safe zones would be automatically formed in Iraq and Syria once the ISIL threat disappears.

"At the end of this efficient fight against ISIL, areas that have been cleared of ISIL [fighters] will become safe zones," Cavusoglu said.

On Friday, three F-16 jets struck ISIL targets that included two command centers and a gathering point near the Turkish border in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine ISIL fighters were killed in the raids. The group has yet to comment on the strikes.

The Syrian government has so far refrained from commenting on Turkish strikes inside Syrian territory, but Syria's main political opposition group, which is backed by Ankara, welcomed Turkey's move.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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