A car bomb attack killed two Turkish soldiers in the Kurdish-dominated southeast of the country, after Kurdish rebels warned they would no longer observe a truce after Ankara's air strikes on their positions in Iraq, officials said Sunday.
Turkey has launched a two-pronged cross-border offensive against ISIS jihadists and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants after a wave of violence in the country, pounding their positions with air strikes and artillery.
But the expansion of the campaign to include not just ISIS targets in Syria but PKK rebels in neighboring northern Iraq – who are bitterly opposed to the jihadists – has put in jeopardy a truce with the Kurdish militants that has largely held since 2013.
The PKK on Saturday said that the conditions were no longer in place to observe the ceasefire, following the heaviest Turkish air strikes on its positions in northern Iraq since August 2011.
The car bomb went off as the soldiers were travelling on a road in the Lice district of Diyarbakir province late Saturday, the statement from the local governor's office said.
"Two of our personnel were killed in the heinous attack, four were wounded," said the statement, adding that large-scale operations have been launched to find the perpetrators. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The PKK has for decades waged a deadly insurgency in the southeast of Turkey for self-rule that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. A peace process that began in 2013 has so far failed to yield a final deal.
"The ceasefire appears to be over," said David Romano, Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University in emailed comments, arguing that the main focus of the Turkish military campaign was the PKK rather than ISIS.
Indeed the majority of airstrikes have been against Kurdish targets, with only a few strikes on ISIS – most of which resulted in little damage or casualties. That has led many Kurds to accuse Turkey of simply using the pretext of "fighting ISIS" to attack Kurdish fighters, who have achieved de-facto autonomy in both northern Iraq and northern Syria.
Turkish armed forces on Saturday pressed on with a new wave of strikes against ISIS and PKK targets, but there were no reports of new air raids overnight.
The military wing of the PKK said in a statement that one PKK fighter in northern Iraq – named as Onder Aslan – was killed in air strikes overnight Friday to Saturday and three others wounded.
The president of the Kurdish-ruled autonomous region in northern Iraq, Massud Barzani, expressed "displeasure with the dangerous level the situation has reached," his office said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ordered the launch of campaign after a week of violence in Turkey which began on Monday with an ISIS suicide bombing in a Kurdish town close to the Syrian border that killed 32.
This incensed Turkey's Kurds who have long accused the government of actively colluding with ISIS, allegations Ankara categorically denies.
Two Turkish policeman were shot dead Wednesday while sleeping in their homes in the southeast, in attacks claimed by the PKK.
The violence has fanned fears that the conflict in Syria's civil war between ISIS and Kurdish militias allied to the PKK is spilling into Turkish territory.
With Turkey still without a permanent government after a June 7 election resulted in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) losing its overall majority for the first time since 2002, parliament has been summoned to meet on Wednesday to discuss the security situation.
Protests shake Turkey
Tensions across the country are high, with police routinely using water cannon to disperse nightly protests in Istanbul and other cities denouncing ISIS and the government's policies on Syria.
Police violently dispersed a demonstration in Ankara late Saturday, using water cannon and making dozens of arrests.
The Istanbul authorities banned a planned anti-jihadist "peace march" scheduled to take place in Istanbul on Sunday, citing security and traffic congestion.
The crackdown has merely fueled sentiments among Kurds in Turkey that the Turkish government is backing ISIS.
Turkish security forces have also been rounding up hundreds of suspected members of ISIS, the PKK and other militant groups on the grounds they pose a threat to the state.
A total of 590 people have so far been arrested, Davutoglu said.
One of those held in Istanbul was a senior ISIS manager in charge of foreign recruits in the city, named as Abdullah Abdullayev, a Russian from the North Caucasus region of Dagestan, the Anatolia news agency said.
But skeptics have asked how Abdullayev was able to operate with impunity in Istanbul until now.
The Kurds are the largest stateless nation, and have been fighting for self-rule for decades. Kurdistan is currently occupied by Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, although Kurds in Iraq and Syria have achieved various degrees of autonomy.
AFP contributed to this report.