IDIL (Turkey) (AFP) - Turkey on Thursday prevented a delegation of deputies from the main pro-Kurdish party from entering the embattled southeastern city of Cizre, where the army and Kurdish rebels have fought deadly battles in recent days.
Pro-Kurdish MPs from the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said 21 civilians, including children, had been killed since the military operation in Cizre was launched last week and an army curfew was imposed.
But Interior Minister Selami Altinok gave a different toll, saying 30 to 32 militants from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) had been killed in the fighting, and only one civilian had died.
He said the HDP lawmakers trying to reach Cizre -- where they claim a humanitarian crisis is worsening by the day -- would not be allowed to enter "for their own security".
The government says the military operation in Cizre, a city of 120,000 close to the borders with Syria and Iraq, is aimed at eliminating PKK fighters after a string of attacks.
Clashes between the Turkish army and the PKK resumed in late July after a two-year ceasefire collapsed.
Tensions have soared in recent days after the PKK killed dozens of members of the Turkish security forces in attacks and nationalists raided HDP offices across the country.
HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas has been leading fellow deputies and dozens of supporters on a march to Cizre to call for an end to the curfew and draw attention to the plight of local residents.
Also part of the group are Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Ali Haydar Konca and Development Minister Muslum Dogan -- HDP MPs who joined the caretaker government ahead of snap elections due on November 1.
But security forces in full riot gear and brandishing shields Thursday stopped them outside Idil, a town several dozen kilometres (miles) west of Cizre, an AFP correspondent said.
"We will not allow them to go to Cizre," Altinok told reporters in Ankara. "It is our duty to protect them."
The interior minister said that as part of the Cizre military operation 800 kilogrammes (1,760 pounds) of explosives had been destroyed, 10 suspected PKK members had been arrested and caches of arms seized.
He added that the curfew, which is now in its seventh day, would continue for as long as necessary and was in line with the law.
"As soon as our activities (the military operation) are completed, we intend to lift the curfew."
- 'Turkey's Kobane' -
Pro-Kurdish media quoted HDP Mardin deputy Mehmet Ali Aslan, who is currently trapped in Cizre, as saying at least eight civilians were killed in attacks by Turkish forces overnight.
"It is impossible to go out and buy bread, the water supply is failing and there is no electricity," the HDP quoted Demirtas as saying Thursday on the road to the city.
"In Cizre, 120,000 people have been held hostage by the state for a week," he added.
He said that the corpses of young girls and boys caught in the crossfire could not even be buried.
"They put ice on the corpses to stop them putrefying. Because burials are banned."
Demirtas described Cizre as "Turkey's Kobane" referring to the Syrian Kurdish town that was the subject of a hugely symbolic battle between Kurds and jihadists up to January this year.
He added that Cizre was being punished for voting "94 percent for the HDP" in inconclusive elections in June that saw President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party lose its overall majority.
Demirtas on Wednesday said Turkey's leaders wanted to drag the country into a "civil war", prompting prosecutors in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir to open an investigation against the HDP leader for "insulting the nation" and "making propaganda for a terror group".
If he is charged and a trial goes ahead, Demirtas could face up to 19 years in jail, the official Anatolia news agency said.
Meanwhile prominent HDP lawmaker and Sakharov Prize laureate Leyla Zana, who was jailed from 1994-2004 over alleged links to the HDP, said she was prepared to go on a hunger strike "to death" if the violence did not stop.