Fighting raged Wednesday in a flashpoint town in southeastern Turkey as the death toll mounted from attacks blamed on Kurdish rebels and local lawmakers warned of a humanitarian crisis.
Turkish security forces backed up by tanks and combat helicopters launched a large-scale operation against the militants in the battered town of Silvan, which has been under a punishing curfew for nine days.
Local MPs have warned that the mainly Kurdish town of 90,000 people is facing dire shortages of water, food and electricity and one accused Ankara of trying to “massacre” the population.
One soldier and one police officer were killed in clashes Wednesday with members of the youth wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), security sources and the provincial governor’s office said.
At least four other soldiers and a policeman were injured in the unrest, according to the same sources.
Five rebels were also killed in the Turkish operation, the Diyarbakir governor’s office said in a statement.
“The operations against the terrorists will continue with determination,” it said.
Also Wednesday, Kurdish militants detonated a car bomb on a road in the neighbouring province of Mardin as a police convoy was passing, killing a municipal worker and wounding a police officer, Dogan news agency said.
Three police officers were killed and another was wounded late Tuesday when they came under a hail of rockets and automatic weapons fire while patrolling the town of Silopi, about 100 miles (160 kilometres) southeast of Silvan, security sources told AFP.
– ‘People fear for their lives’ –
Feleknas Uca, a lawmaker with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), voiced concern that contact had been lost with people in Silvan.
“They are faced with a big massacre. People fear for their lives. This operation should immediately be ended,” she told Dogan.
The hashtag “#There is a massacre in Silvan” is a world trending topic on Twitter.
But the Diyarbakir governor’s office dismissed the protests about the Turkish government’s actions.
“Claims in some media outlets such as ‘civilians are being targeted in the operation, a five-year-old child was killed by bombs, helicopters are throwing bombs with the aim of bringing the people of Silvan on their knees,’ are baseless.”
However, in the three neighbourhoods of Silvan where the round-the-clock curfew has been enforced, scars of street battles are evident in bullet-riddled buildings and streets strewn with rubble and rubbish.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu attended a funeral ceremony for a slain soldier in Ankara — a common sight since Turkey launched its “anti-terrorism war” against the rebels.
Southeast Turkey has been rocked by a new wave of unrest that has left several hundred people dead since a two-year-old truce between Ankara and the PKK fell apart in July.
Last Thursday, the PKK ended a unilateral truce it had declared before the November 1 election, which saw Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) win back a parliamentary majority.
Erdogan subsequently vowed to press on with the fight against the PKK until all its fighters are “wiped out”.
And just a day after the vote, Turkish war planes unleashed several rounds of air strikes on PKK targets in the country’s southeast and in northern Iraq.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the PKK took up arms in 1984 demanding an independent state for Kurds. Since then the group has narrowed its demands to greater autonomy and cultural rights.