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The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, has vowed to “wipe out” Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) militants after 16 soldiers were killed in a rebel attack on Sunday.
Turkish war planes bombed Kurdish insurgent targets overnight after militants staged what appeared to be their deadliest attack since the collapse of a two-year ceasefire in July.
“These terrorists must be wiped out from the mountains; whatever happens they must be wiped out,” Davutoğlu said in televised comments.
“The mountains of this country must not be handed over to terrorists. Every effort will be undertaken.”
Davutoğlu said the soldiers, in the mountainous Dağlica area of Hakkâri province, near the Iraqi border in south-east Turkey, had been carrying out mine-clearing operations.
Turkish military operations continued on Monday, with helicopters dropping special forces in a mountainous area near the Iraqi frontier, while drones sought targets for the war planes.
The clashes with the PKK, weeks before an election the ruling AK party hopes will restore its majority, threaten to sink a peace process the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched in 2012 in an attempt to end an insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people.
A security source said 16 soldiers had been killed, which would be the highest military death toll in a single attack for years.
Erdoğan said in an interview on Sunday on the A Haber TV channel that the fight against the PKK would become more determined. He said 2,000 PKK militants had been killed since the conflict resumed.
Uncertainty arising from the conflict, coinciding with a campaign against Islamic State militants based in Syria, has unnerved investors, with the lira dropping to record lows against the dollar.
The unrest has raised questions over how security can be guaranteed for the vote on 1 November. But Erdoğan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade and now seeks a parliamentary mandate to extend his executive powers, said the election would go ahead.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party, accused by the government of being bound to the PKK, called for a renewed truce and an extraordinary parliamentary meeting. Its leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, cut short a European visit, saying there could be no justification for killing.
“We will not surrender to war policies which only deem death proper for the people’s poor children and splatter blood on the mothers’ dreams of peace,” he tweeted, referring to the Dağlica attack and conflict in the south-eastern town of Cizre.
Local media reports said a lieutenant colonel in command of the Dağlica battalion was among those killed.
“Two of our armoured vehicles suffered heavy damage after the detonation of handmade explosives on the road. As a result of the blast, there were martyrs and wounded among our heroic armed comrades,” the military said.
Two F-16 and two F-14 jets struck 13 PKK targets and operations were continuing “decisively” despite poor weather after the attack, which occurred as security forces were clearing roadside bombs planted by the PKK, the military said.
The security source said that, after the militants detonated the explosives, a clash broke out between soldiers and fighters from the PKK, designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and US.
Before the latest clashes, officials had said more than 70 members of the security services and hundreds of PKK militants had been killed in the fighting since July.
The PKK launched its insurgency in 1984 with the aim of carving out a state in the mainly Kurdish south-east. It later moderated its goal to boosting Kurdish political rights.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report