ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish warplanes carried out air strikes on suspected Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq overnight, Turkey’s general staff said on Sunday.
In a brief statement on its website, it said warplanes had struck the Zab and Hakurk areas, targeting caves and hideouts belonging to the “separatist terror organisation”, a term used by the government to describe the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The general staff did not say whether the strikes had caused any casualties. It said all its planes had returned safely to their bases after completing their mission “successfully”.
Turkey has stepped up air operations on suspected PKK rebels in northern Iraq over the past six months after an increase in PKK attacks on Turkish security forces inside Turkey.
The raids have fuelled tension between Turkey and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq and have triggered protests in northern Iraq and in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.
Relations between Ankara and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad have also become strained over the past few weeks. Turkey fears Iraq is heading towards sectarian war while Baghdad has accused Ankara of meddling in its affairs.
The new wave of Turkish strikes, which began in August, were the first in more than a year on suspected PKK rebel bases in Iraq and mark an escalation of the conflict that has spanned nearly three decades.
More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in 1984.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The operation on Sunday appeared to be the first air strikes by the Turkish military in northern Iraq since Turkish warplanes killed 35 civilian smugglers just across the Iraqi border on December 29 after mistaking them for Kurdish militants.
The attack, which Turkey’s largest pro-Kurdish party, the BDP, called a “crime against humanity”, sparked clashes between hundreds of stone-throwing protesters and police in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s restive southeast.
The incident threatens to spoil efforts to forge Turkish-Kurdish consensus for a planned new constitution expected to partly address the issue of rights for the Kurdish minority.
The government says it is conducting full investigation into the attack and the BDP has referred the incident to the U.N. human rights committee and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, it says to avoid a government cover-up.
Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Louise Ireland