Turkish warplanes defend ISIS, bomb PKK resistance fighters

A woman reacts as smoke rises from the the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane by the Kurds, after a strike from the US-led coalition as it seen from the Turkish – Syrian border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on October 13, 2014. (Photo: AFP – Aris Messinis)

Turkish warplanes bombed targets in the southeast of the country where members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are based, the first strikes on the outlawed group since a 2013 ceasefire, Hurriyet news website said on Tuesday.

Turkish F-16 jets dropped bombs late Monday on PKK targets in the village of Daglica in the Kurdish-majority Hakkari province near the border with Iraq, a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In a separate incident also Monday, Turkish attack helicopters struck at PKK targets around the village of Geyiksuyu in the Tunceli province of eastern Turkey following raids by the PKK.

There was no immediate comment from the military on the reported airstrikes, which Hurriyet said was carried out with the knowledge of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“F-16 and F-4 warplanes which took off from (bases in the southeastern provinces of) Diyarbakir and Malatya rained down bombs on PKK targets after they attacked a military outpost in the Daglica region,” Hurriyet said.

The army has yet to release details on the airstrikes but said in a statement on Saturday that “terrorists from the separatist terrorist organization opened fire on our base in the Daglica region”.

“We responded spontaneously in the toughest possible way,” it said. In line with official practice, the Turkish army never refers to the PKK by name.

The fierce clashes between the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents and Kurdish forces in the key Syrian town of Kobane have shaken Turkey’s fragile peace process with the PKK, blacklisted as a “terrorist organization” by Ankara.

Frustrated with Turkey’s lack of action to stop ISIS advance in northern Syria, Turkey’s Kurdish community has taken to streets in several cities in the southeast over the past week, with at least 31 killed and 360 others injured in four days of deadly clashes.

In addition to the toll of 31 people killed in protests, two policemen were shot dead in the southern city of Bingol while inspecting the scene of a demonstration and five “terrorists” suspected of gunning them down were themselves killed, Interior Minister Efkan Ala told reporters.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the unrest on the “dark forces” seeking to sabotage the delicate peace process with the PKK to end 30 years of violence that has claimed at least 40,000 lives.

The air strikes came one day before the October 15 deadline given by the PKK’s overall leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence in an island prison on the sea of Marmara, for a roadmap to salvage the flagging peace process.

But Nihat Ali Ozcan, security analyst at Ankara-based TEPAV think tank, said while the peace process could well be “dead in the water” one day, it would not be over just because of these latest incidents.

“It is not an easy task to manage the peace process,” he said.

France asks Turkey to open border with Kobane

France’s president Tuesday urged Turkey to open its border to allow reinforcements to reach the besieged city of Kobane and called for more help to those fighting the advance of ISIS.

Francois Hollande stressed that “all countries concerned”, including those not in the coalition fighting ISIS, should provide weapons to those battling the jihadists.

“I think about what is happening today in Kobane, a martyred town, a symbolic town. If we have to intervene, as we decided for France in Iraq, we also have to give the moderate Syrian opposition… all the support, all the help necessary,” he said.

“Kobane could at any moment fall into the hands of the terrorists,” Hollande said. “Turkey must absolutely open its border” to help the Syrian Kurds defending the town which is under attack from Islamic State jihadists.

Kurdish groups have called on Turkey to allow its territory to be used for passing weapons to fighters defending Kobane.

But Turkey is reluctant to arm Kurds and intervene militarily against the jihadists fearing that military action around Kobane could strengthen the Syrian army and Kurdish fighters.

On Monday, three ISIS fighters blew themselves up in Kobane.

In one of the attacks an ISIS fighter detonated a truck laden with explosives in a northern district of Kobane, which has been the scene of heavy clashes between Kurdish forces and ISIS fighters, Kurdish sources said.

Idris Nassan, a Kurdish official in Kobane, said two Kurdish fighters had been wounded during the suicide attack.

“They tried to advance towards the (border) crossing, but the (Kurdish) People’s Protection Units repelled them … and they were not able to push forward,” Nassan told Reuters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported more heavy fighting on Monday inside the city, where US-led air strikes have so far failed to halt the militants’ advance.

Rami Abderahman of the Observatory said one of the suicide attacks targeted a bus station in the northwest of Kobane and that the group had taken around 50 percent of the town.

“They now control the cultural center, which means they have advanced further inside the town,” he said.

Turkey “collaborating” with ISIS

In early October, Ocalan warned that peace talks between his group and the Turkish state will come to an end if ISIS militants are allowed to carry out a massacre in Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane in Kurdish, the third biggest Kurdish population center in Syria and until now a safe haven.

“If this massacre attempt achieves its goal it will end the process,” Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), said in a statement.

In September, PKK urged young Kurds in Turkey to join the fight against ISIS forces in Kobane.

“We call on our entire people, as well as our friends, to step up the resistance,” the PKK statement said.

A PKK leader, Dursun Kalkan, also appealed for “all Kurds to unite their forces,” accusing the Turkish government of “collaboration” with ISIS.

Kurds say they do not want Turkish troops in Kobane, but want Turkey to allow its territory to be used for passing weapons to Kurdish fighters defending the key Syrian town, an idea Ankara has so far rejected.

Turkey has been criticized for indirectly encouraging the formation of ISIS through its support of Islamist elements within the Syrian rebellion against the Syrian army and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to Damascus, Turkey, a NATO member and Washington’s key ally in the region, has been playing a major role in fueling the armed crisis in Syria by opening its borders and allowing free access to foreign jihadists into Syria.

The Syrian government has repeatedly accused Turkey of harboring, financing, training, and arming militants since violence erupted in March 2011.

Damascus sent letters to the United Nations time and again attacking Turkey’s “destructive” role in the Syrian conflict.

In 2013, Syria’s foreign ministry said in letters addressed to the UN Security Council and to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that “Turkey supports and publicly justifies terrorist, destructive acts against Syria” and “has turned its territory into camps used to house, train, finance and infiltrate armed terrorist groups, chief among them the Al-Qaeda network and the Al-Nusra Front.”

Again in 2014, Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari submitted a letter to Ban Ki-moon in which the Syrian government criticized “Turkey’s role in supporting terrorism in the region.”

Jaafari said the Turkish authorities allowed thousands of foreign terrorists, extremists and mercenaries from across the world to enter Syria and provided armed groups with funds, weapons and other forms of support, which is “blatant violation of international agreements on counter-terrorism.”

One non-Syrian Islamist fighter who joined the Syrian rebel ranks in 2012 told Reuters the Turkish borders “were wide open” and armed rebels “used to get in and out of Turkey very easily. No questions were asked. Arms shipments were smuggled easily into Syria.”

Turkey has repeatedly denied such accusations.