Pro-Kurdish Leader Challenges Turkish PM to Prove Cizre Dead are PKK Militants

The joint leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party said he would resign from his post on Friday if the government can prove that victims of the military's siege on the city of Cizre are Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants, according to Turkish media reports.

The Turkish military began a security operation in Cizre against Kurdish militants last Friday, imposing an eight-day curfew on the city and killing at least 30 people in clashes as the conflict with the militant group escalates. However, the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) claims that 20 of those killed were civilians, including a number of children. Turkey's Interior Ministry said most of those killed were Kurdish militants.

In reaction to the claim that those killed were militants, Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the HDP, threatened to leave his position in a press conference held in the southeastern town of Idil on Friday. "I will resign if [the government] prove the civilians killed in Cizre are PKK militants," he said after reading out the names of all the victims, Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet reported. "Normally, the fine when someone breaks a curfew is 100 Turkish Lira ($33)," he added. "In Cizre, the fine is the death sentence and executions."

A delegation of HDP leaders marching towards Cizre on foot was prevented from entering by Turkish police on Thursday near Idil, 28km (17 miles) from the city. Turkey's Interior Ministry said it did not allow the politicians into the city for security reasons. Sibel Yiğitalp, is a HDP MP who has posted images from the city, too graphic to publish, purported to show a woman killed and a baby wounded by Turkish forces.

Demirtaş also claimed that the residents of Cizre, of which 91% voted for the HDP party in the city in June's elections, are unable to access basic resources such as bread and water. A 10-year-old boy who had been killed in the fighting was being kept in a refrigerator by his family as they could not make the journey to the mortuary because of the siege on the city, the BBC reported.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, said that Turkey should allow independent observers immediate access to the city on Friday, calling the unfolding events "distressing."

The ruling AKP party claims that the HDP has links to the PKK, a designated terrorist organisation within Turkey. The pro-Kurdish party swept into the Turkish parliament for the first time in June elections after exceeding the 10% threshold, denying President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu a parliamentary majority.

Since the election, the ruling party has clashed with the HDP leadership over its alleged links with Kurdish militiamen. In July, prosecutors launched an investigation against Demirtaş for allegedly arming protesters during unrest following ISIS's offensive on the Syrian-Kurdish city of Kobane last year, Turkey's Today's Zaman reported.

Elsewhere on Friday, Kurdish militants shot and killed a 22-year-old waiter in an attack on a restaurant in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. He was shot in the head as he served a table of police officers, Reuters reported. Three more officers were killed in the attack.

On Tuesday, the Turkish government authorized a ground operation into Iraq to hunt for two groups of 20 PKK militants, following a bomb blast which killed 12 police officers and another attack on Sunday which resulted in the deaths of 16 Turkish soldiers.

The PKK has waged an insurgency against Turkish authorities since 1984, a conflict that has left almost 40,000 people dead. The Kurdish group seeks self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey. A ceasefire had been observed between the two sides since the end of October 2012 at the behest of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Correction: The article originally stated that the PKK had killed almost 40,000 people since 1984. The article has been amended to reflect that the conflict between Turkish authorities and the PKK has left almost 40,000 people dead since 1984.