Turkey has arrested more than 700 people suspected of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), after it accused the group of executing 13 Turkish citizens.
The victims, soldiers, policemen and civilians who were allegedly abducted by insurgents in recent years, were discovered in a cave complex in the Gara region of Iraq, near the Turkish border.
They were found during an operation against the PKK, launched on February 10, which aimed to free the hostages.
Twelve of the victims were shot in the head and one died from a gunshot wound to the shoulder, the Turkish defense minister said on Sunday.
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the United States of supporting Kurdish militants, calling the US declaration “deplorable.”
“He says he does not support the terrorists, but he is actually on their side,” Erdogan said in a speech.
The US State Department said Sunday it “deplores” the deaths.
“If the reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a classified terrorist organization, are confirmed, we condemn these actions in the strongest terms,” he added in a statement.
The PKK has waged an insurgency against the state of Turksih since 1984, with tens of thousands of people killed in the fighting.
It is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU. However, US support for the YPG’s Syrian Kudish militias, which began under the Obama administration, has for several years sparked tensions between the US and Turkey, the latter claiming that the YPG is linked to the PKK.
Turkey and the United States clash over support for Kurdish militias
“Didn’t you say that you don’t support the PKK, the YPG or the PYD? You are with them and behind them pure and simple, ”Erdogan said.
“If we are together in NATO, and if we are going to continue our (alliance) in NATO, you have to be honest with us,” Erdogan said. “You must not side with the terrorists. You have to be on our side. “
Erdogan said 51 PKK militants were killed during the offensive and vowed to go ahead with cross-border offensives against the PKK in Iraq and against militants based in Syria.
In a statement issued by the Firat news agency, linked to the PKK, the PKK said that “prisoners of war”, made up of members of the Turkish security forces and intelligence agency, were killed as a result of the Turkish airstrikes.
Three Turkish soldiers were also killed during the operation to free the hostages and three others were injured, the Defense Ministry said.
The Turkish Interior Ministry announced on Monday that security forces had arrested 718 people, including HDP leaders, on suspicion of links to the PKK.
“During the raids, a large number of weapons, documents and digital equipment belonging to the (terrorist) organization were seized,” added the Interior Ministry, adding that operations are still being carried out in 40 cities of the country.
The HDP had on Sunday expressed “deep sadness” over the deaths of Turkish citizens in Iraq, calling on the PKK to release the remaining prisoners.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism