Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Ankara is ending the peace process with the Kurds in the face of attacks against Turkish targets, even as his fighter jets launched an attack on Kurdish forces.
"It is not possible to carry on the (peace) process with those who target our national unity and brotherhood," Erdogan told a news conference at an Ankara airport before leaving for a visit to China – in an ironic statement given his demand that Israel hold peace talks with the Palestinian Arabs despite constant terror attacks.
"Those who exploit the tolerance of the state and the people will receive the answer they deserve as soon as possible," he said.
Realizing that threat, Turkish jets on Tuesday hit Kurdish militants in southeastern Turkey after the group fired on security forces, the army said.
"Two F-16 jets carried out air strikes at 3:10 p.m. local time against the terrorist group" in a mountainous region bordering Iraq, the army said in a statement, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). "The targets were directly hit," it said.
The air strikes are believed to the first on Kurdish militants inside Turkey since a 2011 botched raid by F-16 jets that killed 34 civilians near Uludere in Kurdish-majority southeast. The dead turned out to have been mainly cigarette smugglers.
The Turkish military has stepped up strikes against Kurdish militants inside Turkey and in northern Iraq after a series of deadly attacks blamed on the PKK, designated as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.
End of the peace talks, US backs Turkey
Turkey, launched peace negotiations with the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in late 2012 when Erdogan was prime minister.
But the process has been left in tatters after a bombing blamed on Islamic State (ISIS) in a mainly Kurdish border town last week that killed 32 people and triggered revenge attacks by Kurdish militants against Turkish security forces they accuse of cooperating with the jihadists.
Those accusations come after video evidence showed how the Turkish government smuggled weapons in to Syria to aid jihadist forces, in a botched attempt in which agents were arrested on the border.
Since the recent bombing and Kurdish backlash, Ankara has launched strikes against ISIS in Syria as well as PKK positions in northern Iraq.
The PKK warned after the aerial bombardments that the truce in Turkey, which has largely been observed since March 2013, has now lost all meaning.
Heartened by Ankara's readiness to step up its fight against ISIS, the United States backed the right of its NATO ally to bomb the PKK which Turkey and the West categorize as a terror group.
The PKK launched its armed campaign for self rule in 1984 and since then tens of thousands of people have died.
Erdogan on Tuesday vowed to press ahead with anti-ISIS and anti-PKK operations.
"Any step back is out of the question. This is a process and this process will continue with the same determination."
NATO vowed strong support for Turkey's fight against "terrorism" at an emergency meeting Tuesday called to discuss Ankara's strikes against the ISIS fighters and Kurdish rebels.
Erdogan also said the formation of an "ISIS-free" safe zone in the north of war-torn Syria would help the return of many refugees.
"The clearance of those regions and the creation of a safe zone there will lay the ground for 1.7 million citizens here to return home," he said.
PKK attacks on the rise
After the air strikes against PKK bases in northern Iraq, attacks on Turkish soil blamed on Kurdish militants have intensified.
The military said an army sergeant was shot dead by a Kurdish militant near the Iraqi border Tuesday – a day after gunmen killed a paramilitary police commander.
Erdogan won plaudits for introducing reforms for Turkey's Kurdish minority and many Kurds had backed his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
But in the June 7 election, the AKP lost its overall majority for the first time since it came to power in 2002 and Erdogan failed to win backing for his ambition to create a presidential system.
But in a breakthrough for Kurds, the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which the AKP charges is a PKK front, won 80 seats thanks to support from non-Kurdish voters, wrecking AKP hopes of a big majority.
The HDP is now accusing Erdogan of trying to force early elections to attract the nationalist vote and increase the AKP representation in parliament.
"There is no single crime that can be attributed to us. Our only crime is to win 13% of the vote," the party's co-chair Selahattin Demirtas said.
"One of the main objectives of the current air, land and media operations is to harm the HDP in early elections," he said.
Erdogan said on Tuesday he was against closing the HDP but that lawmakers linked with the PKK must be stripped of their immunity and face prosecution.
AFP contributed to this report.