DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Five children were hurt on Friday when an explosive ripped through a schoolyard in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, a region gripped by violence between militants and state security forces for months, security sources said.
The sources blamed the attack on the armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), saying members tossed a homemade explosive into the yard of the middle school in the Baglar district of Diyarbakir, the region’s biggest city.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
Turkish authorities have been battling PKK militants in cities and towns in the mainly Kurdish southeast since July, after a 2-1/2-year ceasefire collapsed. More than 150 civilians have died, rights groups say, in the worst violence the southeast has seen in two decades.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the PKK was behind the attack, saying it was the “peak” of the group’s assaults against public buildings, including hospitals and mosques.
“Our only comfort is that none of our babies were martyred,” he told reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul.
Turkey, the United States and the European Union all classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
The attack occurred before the children entered their classrooms to collect their report cards on the last day of the semester, officials said.
Selahattin Demirtas, head of parliament’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), called the attack an “atrocity.”
“It is an atrocity to bomb a school garden with little children in it. But we are in an environment where is no will to reveal those responsible for any crime,” Demirtas, whose party is accused of links with the PKK, told reporters in Ankara.
A few miles from the school in Sur district, two soldiers were wounded in a rocket attack, security sources said.
Also, a special forces police officer was killed in Cizre, a town further east bordering Syria, in clashes with PKK militants, they said.
Sur, Cizre and the town of Silopi have been under a round-the-clock curfew since December during security operations against militants who have dug trenches and built barricades to keep police at bay.
Deputy Prime Minister Lutfi Elvan said that operations were nearly complete in Silopi. “Hopefully this cleansing operation will soon finish in Cizre and Sur as well,” he added. “We will continue our struggle until members of the terrorist organisation are wiped out.”
Rights group Amnesty International said in a report on Thursday that up to 200,000 people were at risk in the region due to police and military operations, cut off from emergency services and food, water and power supplies.
Police on Friday detained Leyla Imret, Cizre’s 29-year-old mayor, after a prosecutor accused her of terrorist propaganda in connection with an interview she gave. The Interior Ministry banned her from office in September.
Imret is among two dozen mayors of southeastern towns held since the conflict reignited.
The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984, and more than 40,000 people have died in the insurgency.
Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan and Ercan Gurses; Writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Alison Williams and Toby Chopra