Four Turkish security forces 'killed in PKK attacks' after new raids

Dilay Gundogan and Ambre Tosunoglu
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A Turkish special forces police officer pictured on August 10, 2015 in Istanbul, when the city was shaken by twin attacks on the US consulate and a police station

A Turkish special forces police officer pictured on August 10, 2015 in Istanbul, when the city was shaken by twin attacks on the US consulate and a police station (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Istanbul (AFP) - Three Turkish soldiers and a police officer were killed Saturday in attacks blamed on members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in eastern Turkey, as authorities carried out new raids to arrest suspected militants.

The latest deaths bring to seven the number of security forces killed in the last 24 hours by Kurdish rebels, who have stepped up their attacks on members of Turkish army in an escalating cycle of violence that has left a 2013 ceasefire agreed by the PKK in tatters.

The three soldiers were killed when an explosive device laid by PKK militants on a road in the Karliova district of eastern Bingol province was detonated, the army said in a statement.

"Three of our soldiers were martyred and six wounded," the army said, adding clashes were continuing in the region.

Later on Saturday a police officer died after coming under attack by PKK militants as security forces were sealing trenches dug by the rebels in the Semdinli area of the southeastern Hakkari region, Dogan news agency said.

Ankara has launched a two-pronged "anti-terror" offensive against jihadists in Syria and PKK militants in northern Iraq after a series of attacks on Turkish soil, including a suicide bombing blamed on the Islamic State group that killed scores of pro-Kurdish activists in the town of Suruc on July 20.

So far, Turkey's operation has focused largely on the Kurdish rebels, who have responded by waging a bloody campaign against the security forces.

- 'Pay a heavy price' -

Speaking in his ancestral hometown in northeast Turkey's Rize province, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that the fight against terror would continue "unabated," adding: "No one should test Turkey's strength, or they will pay a heavy price."

Turkish authorities meanwhile carried out new dawn raids to arrest suspected IS and PKK members, with the official Anatolia news agency saying at least 84 suspects had been detained in several provinces, including Istanbul as well as Mardin and Gaziantep in the southeast and Van to the east.

Police also seized a large number of explosives, Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers, Anatolia said.

Citing official sources, the Hurriyet newspaper reported that Turkish authorities had seized 30 suicide vests in recent anti-IS operations.

More than 2,500 people have so far been detained in raids targeting suspected members of the PKK, IS and the Marxist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party Front (DHKP-C), a Turkish official said Saturday, the overwhelming majority of them from the PKK.

The official told reporters that 39 members of the Turkish security forces had died in attacks since July 20 while 40 civilians had been killed including in the Suruc bombing.

The same official said Turkey is concerned by the advance of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria but that the Syrian Kurdish group is not on the "target list" of Ankara's current anti-terror operation.

The PYD's Kurdish fighters control large parts of northern Syria on the Turkish border, where they have for months engaged in fierce fighting with IS jihadists.

The PYD has "incredibly close links" with the PKK, which has waged a separatist-tinged insurgency in Turkey for three decades and is regarded by Ankara as a terrorist group, the official told reporters.

"The PYD is not on our target list. We are not going to attack the PYD as long as they are not going to attack Turkey."

But he added that Ankara still has problems with the group, accusing elements of being allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and that these concerns have been presented to the United States as the two countries work to create a zone free of IS jihadists inside Syria.